Jackson works back into shape

Less than three weeks ago, Tarvaris Jackson was buckled over after barely completing conditioning drills at Larry Fitzgerald's camp. On Thursday, Jackson was a picture of fitness and talking about the progress he's made.

On July 6, Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson was taking a knee, gasping for air and even throwing up a little water after an intense workout session that not-so-coincidentally was his first day at Larry Fitzgerald's conditioning camp on the University of Minnesota campus.

On Thursday, the scene was quite different. Jackson had just finished an extended series of runs back and forth across a practice field. There was the familiar scene of Fitzgerald standing tall … and this time Jackson looked the part too.

Shortly after finishing his last sprint of the morning, he had a proclamation.

"I feel a lot better now. That first day was the worst. I was out of my league then. I'm fine now. I've been out here for three weeks pretty much," he said.

Actually, 17 days to be exact. This time there was no Fourth of July holiday weekend leftovers bogging him down. After three weeks at Fitzgerald's increasingly popular conditioning camp, Jackson was ready for a one-week break before reporting to training camp in Mankato.

There is little doubt that he will be one of the best-conditioned players on the Mankato practice fields after three weeks with Fitzgerald and dozens of other NFL players who were invited directly or indirectly by the star Arizona receiver to get put through their paces by exercise expert Bill Welle and enjoy the instruction of some of the NFL's best receivers of the past decade.

"They know they're going to get some work in. They know they're going to get conditioned so that when they go to camp, it's not about a conditioning issue," Welle said of the NFL players. "Now they can work on their skills. If I can provide them a better athlete, that's the best thing."

"I think Tarvaris will tell you he's in better shape now. When he goes into camp, he'll be good to go."

Jackson was in such good condition now that he enjoyed seeing some fellow NFL players join the routine after him and struggle like he did 17 days ago.

"I was excited to see those guys. I wanted to see those guys struggle and just let them know and just show them that you can't come in here in (that) condition. Larry and them have been doing this about the last month and a half. When you come in in the middle, they're not going to scale back in the middle just because you just got here. You've got to do what everybody else has been doing even if you're not in that type of shape yet," Jackson said.

Among the NFL players joining Vikings linebacker Jasper Brinkley, wide receiver Jaymar Johnson and Jackson on Thursday were Saints CB Malcolm Jenkins, Cardinals receiver Steve Breaston, Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe and about a dozen other athletes.

"You've got cats that (are) all over the National Football League here. You rarely can find that," said former NFL receiver Andre Rison, who was tutoring the group on Thursday. "Maybe some hometown guys that are from the same city that made it to the professional ranks, they might work out together. But to get to a neutral place, it's hard to do, but that just shows you the great admiration that Larry has for working in the offseason. And also the admiration he has to help the younger receivers that are coming into the league."

Fitzgerald expects to go next week as well, but some of the players will undoubtedly eschew their last days of voluntary workouts for some pre-training camp rest and relaxation.

For Jackson, the decision to join Fitzgerald this year after being asked the previous couple of years came from a desire to try something new. He had been training in Orlando and his home state of Alabama in previous years, but back home he didn't have NFL receivers to throw to. And then there is the additional pointers he gets from players past and present alike.

"You've got different guys coaching you up. We do different drops, we do different footwork for quarterbacks," he said. "We've got guys critiquing you on your footwork, guys that have been here a long time and been in the league for a long time. We give each other different feedback and what you're doing wrong."

Because it's Fitzgerald that is organizing the players and footing the bill, most of that instruction comes from receivers. Michael Irvin was dispensing advice during Jackson's first week. Cris Carter and Jerry Rice have also attended. This week, it was Andre Rison's turn.

He was preaching to players about the minutia of route-running – changing speeds, moving defensive backs with the position of the receiver's head, hand positioning and closing the cushion, among other tips.

"Playing in the National Football League for as long as I did and this game for so long and playing against great defensive backs, you just can't get over with your natural, God-given talent. You have to work at it and craft at it," Rison said. "It's like a basketball player. If he's struggling at the free throw line, rest assured Kobe Bryant is in the gym shooting free throws. Every year, Kobe comes out with a new move and it's from watching the past players that have played the game. He talks about it all the time. He'll watch film and he'll get a move from guys that played in the 60s, guys that played in the 70s. He'll craft it and the next thing you know he's doing it on national TV."

Jackson hopes to be in the position to make plays as a starter once again in the NFL. If Brett Favre returns for a 20th NFL season, that won't happen this year, but at least Jackson won't enter training camp next Friday out of shape.

Welle made sure of that over the last three weeks. He saw what Jackson looked like after his first day at Camp Fitz and Welle isn't the type to go easy on players their first day.

"I tend not to be a back-off guy. You have to learn personalities, obviously. Some guys you can get in their face and they're just going to back off," Welle said. "Most of the time with NFL players, they're not. They're going to step up and give a good effort."

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

Viking Update Top Stories