Throughout the offseason, Vikings coach Brad Childress continued to advance the thinking that Tarvaris Jackson and Brooks Bollinger were in a competition for the starting quarterback job, yet Jackson dominated the first-team snaps throughout minicamps, organized team activities and training camp.
It was pretty obvious that Jackson was being groomed to be the starter and it was his job to lose. Despite some poor performances to start the season, it was taking a series of injuries to keep Jackson off the field. He was almost in disbelief this week at his injury situation over the last two years. "I was talking to my college trainer the other day and was talking about how I was pretty much injury-free throughout college," said the Alabama State alumnus. "I got nicks and bruises here and there, but nothing that kept me out of the games. Now that I'm getting hurt, (he's saying) I'm just trying to get some attention, but you can't get too much attention on the sidelines. It's just frustrating that I've been pretty much injury-free and consider myself a tough guy, for me to go out there and not be able to play because of a finger, a broken finger, it's kind of out of character for me. Just bad luck I guess."
Last year, Jackson worked through a knee injury that kept him limited throughout much of the season in a reserve role, but he did start the final two games of 2006 with limited mobility.
Then came the start of this season, when he was given the keys to the car. At times, he couldn't even get it started, and at other times he was getting dinged up, which has taken a bit of shine off the development of a young quarterback.
"It just hurts your rhythm. You get in a nice little rhythm and then you miss a game," Jackson said. "I've missed three games already this year and we've played seven – that's too many games. I've always been taught that part of my job is to be there play in and play out."
Meanwhile, Bollinger looked like he was going to remain buried on the quarterback depth chart after the Vikings acquired Kelly Holcomb in a trade just before the season began. While Holcomb was catching up with the nuances of the Vikings' offensive system, he was inactive for the first two games. But once active, he started the next two games while Jackson dealt with a strained groin.
"Fortunately and unfortunately, I've been through (the quarterback carousel) before," Bollinger said. "I think what I've learned from my experience is that you'd better hang in there and continue to work and continue doing what you believe in, and that's helping this team win, and then your situation will work itself out. It always does."
After a short relief stint and fumbling in overtime in the Vikings' loss to Detroit, Bollinger didn't see the field again until last week, when Jackson was inactive with a fractured finger and Holcomb was knocked out of the game with a neck injury.
Bollinger's second-half substitution ended up giving him the best passer rating of the season for any of the three Vikings quarterbacks, and a shot of much-needed confidence.
"You always want to have confidence in yourself, but I think success breeds confidence," Bollinger said. "It's important for not only yourself to have confidence internally, but also for the guys around you to have confidence in you when you step into the huddle. I think we had a little success (on Sunday), but not enough. Personally some good things came out it and hopefully for the offense as far as moving the ball."
Bollinger completed 7 of 10 passes for 94 yards and a 99.1 rating. He also put up the second-best rating of the season in his Detroit overtime appearance, completing 3 of 4 passes for 26 yards and a 91.7 rating before fumbling away the Vikings' chances of a win.
While sometimes looking like the worst option at the position during the preseason, he has looked like the best option in his limited experience during the season. Still, Jackson will start on Sunday if his health allows, Childress said.
"I'm going to show up Wednesday and accept whatever role I'm given and go out and do it to the best of my ability," Bollinger said. "I think on a personal level, you try not to look at the big picture like, ‘When am I going to get my shot? What's going to happen with me and my career?'"
Despite posting the best passer rating of the season for the Vikings, Bollinger said he sees things on nearly every play that he would like to improve. Mainly, he was disappointed that he didn't get away from one of the two sacks he took on Sunday and hopes to improve his footwork, and he also mentioned getting in and out of the huddle faster. But he's still happy that he at least got another chance to prove himself this year.
"You can look up and down the league this year and see guys off the street that are starting football games to guys who are backups that haven't seen the field. It's a funny league that way, and you just never know what situation you're going to be put in," he said.
He might not know until Sunday what position he's going to be put in – a starter or a backup. It all depends on the healing process with Jackson's still-swollen and fractured finger, which Jackson called a day-to-day process.
"I wasn't too far away (last Sunday)," Jackson said. "It was just swollen and I couldn't really control the football as much as I'm used to."
Jackson threw the ball last Wednesday and Thursday in practice and then backed off the process. He was scheduled to throw again yesterday in hopes of seeing progress from his daily icing routine.
As far as his status for Sunday's game against the Chargers, he knows all he can do is believe his head coach.
"Me and him talk about the whole situation and all I can believe is what he tells me," Jackson said. "If I'm healthy, I'm pretty sure I'll be out there."