By Kevin Seifert
Before heading to his Alabama home this winter, Tarvaris Jackson met with Brad Childress and other Vikings coaches. They instructed him to "keep working," Jackson said, and "to build on what I did last season."
At no point did Childress or anyone else tell him directly that he would be the 2008 starter at quarterback. Were the Vikings hatching a secret plan to acquire a big name starter such as Philadelphia’s Donovan McNabb? Or was Jackson so obviously the starter that no announcement was necessary?
As it turns out, the latter was closer to the truth. The Vikings never made a serious run at McNabb or another presumptive starter, instead signing Gus Frerotte as Jackson’s clear backup.
So as the Vikings opened organized team activities this week, Jackson carried himself with a starter’s swagger. He has appeared more demonstrative in the huddle and is launching passes far more decisively than he did last spring. And in interviews, Jackson is speaking of expanding his knowledge base rather than merely learning the offense.
"What I’m trying to do is just get better on the little things," Jackson said, "and try to get a better understanding of what everybody is doing. I just want to be more intelligent out there and make better decisions. I’d like to be able to know what everyone on the field is doing and add that to my game."
Non-contact and usually run at half-speed, OTAs are valuable only in a relative sense — when compared to each other. And yet there is no denying Jackson’s progress from last spring’s workouts, where it seemed half of his pass plays ended in him scrambling from the pocket because he wasn’t sure where to throw.
Wednesday, Jackson spread the ball confidently and with little hesitation. The value of that observation won’t be known until Sept. 8 at Lambeau Field, but for Vikings coaches it means Jackson is continuing to move in the right direction.
"I’m excited where he’s at right now," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "He’s kind of in a good situation. Usually you make your biggest jump between your first and second year, and as far as playing goes, I count this as his second year.
"But then as far as the system goes, this is his third year in the system, so he’s kind of really getting it down to the whys and what fors," Bevell added. "Why are we doing things? What are we supposed to be doing? . . . He’s kind of in a good spot for those reasons, and he seems to be very focused."
Jackson’s most significant why and what for is understanding the peripheral play around him. What type of pass rush is the defense employing and how does it affect pass protection? What calls can a quarterback make to adjust pass protection?
"I feel like I came into the offseason with a base that I could jump off from, Jackson said. "I knew a lot of the big things, so this is the time to work on a lot of the small things. Go from big to small."
"(I’m) just trying to get more comfortable with the offense," he added, "which I feel a lot more comfortable in just coming out here (this week.) I feel like we never left."
He was the starter when they left and is the Vikings’ starter now — more than ever.
"If I was declared the starter or I wasn’t, it wouldn’t change my work ethic," he said. "You never really know, anyway. So my job is to work hard at it, regardless. I’m just taking what I did last season and trying to get better at it."