|Harry How/Getty Images|
|While Tarvaris Jackson is fortunate to have running back Adrian Peterson to turn to, the QB is looking to make a statement of his own in 2008.|
MANKATO, Minn. -- Tarvaris Jackson has been tested all summer in the typical ways that an NFL quarterback is tested.
Does he read the defense correctly? Does he find the open receiver? Does he know when a blitz is coming and from what direction? Does he deliver the ball with proper timing and accuracy?
For the most part, Jackson is passing those tests with flying colors. He has moved the Minnesota Vikings' offense consistently in training-camp practices and was impressive in the preseason-opener against the Seattle Seahawks.
But it is the way Jackson handled a test that was anything but typical that has his teammates and coaches feeling better than ever about the man whose performance figures to make the biggest difference in the Vikings' hopes of fulfilling high expectations of a playoff season.
Throughout non-stop media speculation that the Vikings might acquire Brett Favre in a trade with the Green Bay Packers, Jackson never flinched. He never publicly expressed anger or frustration that his team was trying to replace him after only one year as a full-time starter and only two seasons after making him a second-round draft pick. He never seemed the least bit distracted.
All Jackson did was go about his business in camp and prove to everyone watching that the Vikings were just fine with the quarterback that they had. Of course, the Packers ended up shipping the NFL legend to the New York Jets, rendering the whole Favre-to-Minnesota talk moot.
But it was, and potentially still is, the type of thing that could easily harm the development of a young player. So far, no one can find any signs of damage to Jackson's psyche.
"I thought Tarvaris handled it great," defensive end Jared Allen said. "If it got to him, he didn't let it show, especially in the first preseason game against Seattle. He went on the field, he led the offense, he took control, he marched us down the field and he scored some points (completing 8 of 11 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown)."
"He never once let it faze him at all," safety Darren Sharper said. "He kept going out there, each and every day, practicing at a high level and being consistent."
One doesn't get the sense that the Vikings are disappointed they didn't end up with Favre. Nor does it seem they were ever questioning where they were headed with Jackson under center.
"We already had a quarterback in Tarvaris," offensive guard Anthony Herrera said. "We all believe in him. He's showing great strides out on the practice field. It never crossed my mind about Brett being my quarterback."
Jackson insists it wasn't difficult to hear about Favre's possible arrival in Minnesota during practically every waking moment. He simply focused on what he could control, which was to make himself a better quarterback every time he was on the field.
Besides, Jackson knew he wasn't alone. He knew that in addition to the speculation that Favre could join the Vikings, there also was buzz about him winding up with a team -- the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- that has a far more established quarterback.
"Jeff Garcia led them to the playoffs last year, and is a pretty good quarterback, a Pro Bowl quarterback," Jackson said. "So why do I have a right to be mad about my situation when I haven't even done that yet?
"I can't really control that part of football. The only thing I can control is me coming out here and trying to get better every day."
Jackson has done exactly that. He is showing excellent poise. He looks comfortable in the pocket. He is making faster reads and good decisions with the ball.
"That's something I've seen more of (from him) this offseason and the early part of the preseason schedule -- being consistent with the football, making the right throws," Sharper said. "His progression of his reads has gotten much better."
Coach Brad Childress has noticed a positive change in Jackson's demeanor from last season. He no longer sees the giddiness that goes with being a first-time NFL starter. He sees a quarterback who understands the work and dedication required in order to keep the job for the long haul, and is willing to do it.
"You realize what kind of mantle that is that you have to wear when you're a starting quarterback in the National Football League," Childress said. "It's about production, it's about winning and preparing. He's had a great offseason in terms of preparation and he's looking forward to getting that on the field right now."
"He's a little bit more vocal," Herrera said of Jackson. "You can tell his confidence, his swagger is up. He knows what he's doing now. Instead of him going out there and wondering, now he knows what to do. You can see when he's calling the plays, telling the (receivers) what to look for, to get the splits a little bit wider on certain plays. He's taking control and command of the huddle."
Jackson went 8-4 in 12 starts last season and battled through injuries that caused him to miss four games. He won seven of his final 10 starts, providing a foundation on which the Vikings expect to build a contender.
The addition of free-agent receiver Bernard Berrian from Chicago provides Jackson with a dynamic playmaker. The Vikings also are expecting strong contributions from second-year wideouts Sidney Rice and Aundrae Allison. They have a dominant running back in Adrian Peterson. Two big additions to their defense, Allen and safety Madieu Williams, also figure to make an enormous impact.
Yet, at the end of the day, it all figures to come down to how Jackson performs.
"It's going to be a big year for him, but also for us," Sharper said. "We expect a lot of big things."
If Jackson can keep passing tests, typical and otherwise for an NFL quarterback, those expectations will become reality.
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