Key matchup: Jackson vs. 49ers defense

The 49ers have an aggressive defense, as the Vikings found out early last year. It's only preseason, but for Tarvaris Jackson it's another chance to show he's progressing as a quarterback. Can he gain confidence with a strong showing against the 49ers?

Let the carousel continue.

Last week, our key matchup involved Sage Rosenfels, who was expected to play two-and-a-half quarters of the preseason opener against the Rams. He did so as the No. 2 quarterback at the time with the full expectation that Brett Favre would return and that Rosenfels could easily be the odd man out in a roster-spot battle with rookie Joe Webb. He responded by throwing for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns.

A week later, Favre is in the fold and all of the concerns that the three quarterbacks had entering training camp came to fruition. Tarvaris Jackson is now the No. 2 quarterback and needs to prove that he can take his latest demotion in stride, making his battle with the 49ers defense this week's matchup to watch.

Jackson's psyche has been more than tested over his brief NFL career. There were plenty of hopes pinned on him when the Vikings traded up into the end of the second round of the 2006 draft to take him. He was touted as a poor man's Donovan McNabb and Brad Childress was going to work his magic with him. He was going to be the future of the franchise.

Initially, the plan was to have him sit for his rookie season and then compete for the starting job in his second year. When the Vikings hit bottom in Childress' first year, finishing 6-10 after a 4-2 start, that process got sped up. T-Jack started the final two games of his rookie season and, with veteran Brad Johnson cut adrift following the season, it was Jackson's job to have in his second season.

The road to be an NFL starter was a difficult one. While he posted an 8-4 record as a starter, he never fully got comfortable. Three different injuries knocked him out of action three different times and, thanks to the Vikings going 0-4 in the four games he missed, the team missed the playoffs. As hard as it may be to believe, those were the best of times for Jackson.

It appeared as though Childress and the Vikings had given up on Jackson after starting 0-2 in 2008. He played poorly in the first two games and, after just two games, Gus Frerotte was named the starter for the remainder of the season. When his body crumbled under the strain of being the full-time starter, Jackson got his starting job back. But, as we all know, that wouldn't last. Jackson's uninspired playoff loss to the Eagles in January 2009 – a game in which he completed just 15 of 35 passes for 164 yards with an interception and a passer rating of 45.4 – means he hasn't started a meaningful game since.

While his roster spot is secure, how his confidence takes the latest demotion will be critical to the Vikings moving forward. If he listens to how any of the national or local media speak about him – that the Vikings might be a playoff team without Favre, but not a legitimate Super Bowl contender with Jackson – confidence is critical at this stage in his career.

He's facing a 49ers team that is being built in the mindset of head coach Mike Singletary. You can bet he will have his second-team defense looking to make a statement, especially seeing as San Francisco is the consensus pick to win the NFC West and make the 2010 playoffs. They are going to be looking to make a statement of their own and none of their players have forgotten the last-second loss to the Vikings last year that derailed their 2009 season. They're going to be looking for revenge in any way they can find it. While their exposure to Favre is likely going to be limited to a series or two, chances are the game will be won or lost with Jackson at QB. How he responds to the latest chapter in the ongoing Vikings soap opera will have ramifications heading forward, making this confidence check of T-Jack this week's matchup to watch.

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