Not surprisingly, chief among the issues outlined by Childress was ball security, a tenant he has preached from the outset of taking over the Vikings' coaching duties. But there were several other areas Childress pointed out when asked where Jackson needs to improve.
"He needs to take care of the football," Childress said of Jackson. "In our last three losses, we turned it over 10 times and had one takeaway. That usually paints a picture in and of itself. Taking care of the football, and with that learning how to throw the way it's an art. Learning to play another down. You don't have to save every play. Then just the decision-making, being able to progress. Knowing when I want to let go of that deep ball and give the guy a one-on-one opportunity or is it better to bring it down and go 4-yard checkdown, second-and-6."
Jackson did make some strides in his first year as a full-time starter, but some of his progress was likely stunted early when he failed to stay healthy enough to string together a long streak of starts. In 2007, he went 8-4 as a starter but did not play in four of the first nine games.
Childress has hinted that he wants to see Jackson stay healthy to develop into the starter he believes he can be in a few years, but the head coach also wants more sooner.
"Two or three years from now I'm very confident, but that's not good enough for me. I want him to take a big jump this year, and I think he can," Childress said. "I talked about a four- or five-year process, and it is a process. This will be his second year as a starter, so he understands a lot more things about that position right now."
Childress has referred to the final eight minutes of the season finale in Denver as proof that Jackson can be a strong quarterback in the future. The Vikings were trailing by 16 points with less than eight minutes remaining in that game when Jackson led the team on two touchdown drives, both capped with touchdown passes to Bobby Wade and two-point conversion runs by Jackson.
"You go into a no-huddle and he kind of wills us down the field by moving, by scrambling and hitting people, by stepping up in the pocket and putting one on the flag, by running for 15 yards," said Childress, who added that sort of performance was what he envisioned with he drafted Jackson at the end of the second round of the 2006 draft.
"Absolutely. I didn't want an iron deer on the lawn sitting back there and throwing the ball unless he could get it out all the time," Childress said. "I wanted a guy with some athleticism. Those guys are going to get beaten up front. A guy that can move, a guy that can make all the throws and be quick."
Entering that draft, Jackson was a relative unknown to most casual draft followers. But the Vikings did their homework. They flew down to work him, talked with his mother and his receivers coach, former NFL receiver Reggie Barlow. And they took Jackson out to lunch. And even quarterback's menu choice made a favorable impression on Childress.
The Vikings contingent wanted to go to a spaghetti place, but Jackson wanted to find a restaurant that served health food. "That's a good deal," Childress said. "That means your quarterback probably isn't going to go to 270 (pounds)."
Many draft analysts said the Vikings reached by trading away draft picks to move up to the end of the second round to select Jackson, but the Vikings liked what they saw and didn't want to get beaten to the punch by another team they feared might select him before Minnesota's third-round selection came. Jackson graded out favorably in their predraft assessment of him and they made their move to select him.
"From afar, you sit and look at what physicals skills are there. It's kind of like the curb appeal of a car. You sit and look and say, ‘OK, on face, I like that drop, I like that stroke, I like the way he moves around.' Now you open up the door and you find more," Childress said. "The big thing for us has always been looking for a guy who is a flat-line guy and you have to get into him a little bit. Not too high, not too low. Wired the right way. I just think those are important things. Brightness in his eye. You've got to listen to him talk, talk you through his offense, see what he knows. Willingness to work. How tough-minded of a guy is he because the mantle that you put on as a quarterback in the National Football League has to do with physical toughness but really the day-to-day beating mentally that you have a chance to take in between six days of football?"
The Vikings obviously liked what they saw in Jackson two years ago when they were conducting their predraft analysis and still feel strongly enough about him to enter the 2008 draft without a true challenger to his starting throne and no obvious plans to draft another quarterback with a high-round selection.