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With Favre out of the picture, Vikings' focus turns to Jackson, Rosenfels

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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Future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre informed Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress on Tuesday that he will remain retired and not join the team this season. However, Childress and his players should have been prepared for such a decision since this journey began more than two months ago after the New York Jets released Favre.

As Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said following the announcement of Favre's decision to stay retired: "Now we move on with the players we have and prepare to defend the division title and try and do some damage in the playoffs."

But to reach their lofty goals, the Vikings need solid play at quarterback, a position at which incumbent Tarvaris Jackson and newcomer Sage Rosenfels will compete for the starting job in training camp starting this week.

One of the fortunate things that transpired throughout this summer-long saga was that Favre never showed up at the Vikings' facility, so Jackson and Rosenfels took all the repetitions in minicamps and organized team activities. Since they received plenty of attention in spring workouts, Jackson and Rosenfels have no excuse not to succeed.

And there's no sympathy coming from their Vikings teammates. Do you think running back Chester Taylor liked it when the team drafted Adrian Peterson in 2007? What about the other defensive ends seeing the team trade for Jared Allen last year? Was wide receiver Bobby Wade thrilled when Percy Harvin was selected in April's draft? That's part of football, and now it's up to the two quarterbacks to go toe-to-toe.

It will be a close competition through August, but before things heat up, let's closely examine Jackson and Rosenfels, who have 31 career regular-season starts between them, compared to Favre's 269.

Rosenfels is a career backup who has 12 starts in eight seasons, and Jackson is headed into his fourth season with 19 starts under his belt. Their passing numbers are similar and make for a decent comparison. Rosenfels has thrown 562 passes, completing 351 (62.5 percent) for 4,156 yards. He has 30 touchdown passes to go with 29 interceptions, but he has been sacked just 19 times, or once every 30 attempts. Jackson has connected on 306 of 524 passes (58.4 percent) for 3,442 yards. He has thrown 20 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions, and he has been sacked 41 times, or once every 14 attempts.

Jackson can make up for being sacked too much with his ability to run with the football, adding yet another dimension to the Vikings' vaunted running game. Jackson has run 95 times for 482 yards, or 5.1 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Rosenfels has crossed the line of scrimmage just 45 times for 98 yards, a modest 2.2 yards per rush. The Vikings probably will see Rosenfels run the team more efficiently in the early days of camp, but sooner or later, Jackson will demonstrate his athletic ability to make a big play, and the competition will hit a fever pitch.

Another interesting statistic is pass completions for more than 25 yards. Rosenfels has the strong-armed Jackson beat in the category, 26-16, but when it comes to YAC (yards after the catch), Jackson has a slightly better average at 5.1 yards per completion, compared to Rosenfels' 4.8.

This competition will come down to mental toughness. Rosenfels might have more control of the offense at the line of scrimmage because he has five more years of experience, but there is a gritty side to Jackson that will rise to the occasion and not be intimidated. One Vikings player suggested to me that although Rosenfels looked good in minicamps and OTAs, the news about Favre's possible arrival seemed to bother him more than it did Jackson. Both guys probably weren't happy about the talk, but handling the pressure of Favre was good exercise for the fight they now face. Another Vikings player said, "This team doesn't care which quarterback wins the quarterback job just as long as the team wins, and no one is taking sides in this one."

Things like running the two-minute drill, the third-down package and the red-zone offense and calling audibles at the line of scrimmage might start out as wins for 31-year-old Rosenfels, but if 26-year-old Jackson can repeat the skills he showed during a four-touchdown-pass performance in a Week 15 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, then the race will tighten. Jackson gives the Vikings an interesting bootleg attack, a quarterback draw and a scramble package, and he can throw a laser slant route at times. Rosenfels will hit the West Coast crossing route and take the checkdown when he must.

The quarterbacks' different styles inside the same offense could make for two interesting game plans throughout training camp. Childress and his offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, are smart enough not to make clones out of Rosenfels and Jackson but will play to each of their strengths and let the best man win.

In the end, the Vikings are looking for the guy who takes care of the ball the best. Rosenfels has some work to do in this area. He has thrown an interception once every 19.3 attempts, and Jackson has thrown a pick once every 29.1 passes. Whether it is in practice or preseason games, the Vikings' veteran defenders don't want the offense to give the ball back to the opponent. During every play at practice, you can be sure that the coaches will note interceptions, lost fumbles and mental errors by the quarterbacks. But the players don't need to see the charts -- they'll just know which quarterback takes care of the ball the best.

Both quarterbacks also will deal with a new center, John Sullivan, an inexperienced player who's replacing six-time Pro Bowler Matt Birk. That will create stress with the line calls, center-quarterback exchanges and audibles. Who will crack under that extra pressure?

And the rumors about Favre simply won't go away, despite Tuesday's announcement. In fact, one has to wonder whether Rosenfels or Jackson was rattled the most by the news that Favre will continue to throw even though he is retired.

Either way, whoever starts at quarterback for the Vikings this season must perform or fear being replaced.

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