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Childress: Jackson will start at quarterback if he is healthy

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings started this season with an interesting experiment at quarterback.

Would a second-year project from Division I-AA, an unproven veteran acquired the week before the regular season and a career backup be enough to get them through the season?

As coach Brad Childress and the Vikings near the halfway point of an already disappointing season, that experiment has given way to a Last Man Standing contest.

Starter Tarvaris Jackson has been shaky at best in his four starts, and a broken right index finger leaves his availability for this week's game against San Diego in question.

Backup Kelly Holcomb hasn't played any better than Jackson in his three starts and suffered a whiplash injury when he was sacked in a loss to Philadelphia on Sunday.

Holcomb was "extremely sore" on Monday, but an MRI and CT scan revealed no structural damage after he fell awkwardly on his head and went numb for a few moments in the third quarter.

"Looking at it today, and the way I hit the ground and bounced off the turf, I was lucky," Holcomb said.

That leaves Brooks Bollinger, who entered training camp competing with Jackson for the starting job but found himself third on the depth chart after the Vikings acquired Holcomb during the last week of the preseason, as the only healthy quarterback on the roster.

Bollinger was 7-for-10 for 94 yards in emergency duty against the Eagles, but Childress said Monday that Jackson will get the start if his finger feels good enough to throw.

"If Tarvaris can go, he's going to go," Childress said. "We just have to see where Kelly's injury takes him in terms of how comfortable he is."

Jackson plans to throw on Tuesday to test out the finger, and Childress said the team has no immediate plans to bring in another quarterback.

Childress' continued support of Jackson despite a completion percentage (46 percent) and a quarterback rating (48.7) that rank at the bottom of the NFL shows that the coach is not ready to turn the reins over to Bollinger, who looked more comfortable in two quarters against the Eagles than Jackson or Holcomb has all season.

Just like his two teammates, however, Bollinger couldn't get the Vikings into the end zone in a 23-16 loss that dropped them to 2-5 in a season that is in danger of becoming lost in a hurry.

"Everybody wants to be on the field. Everybody wants to contribute to this team," Bollinger said. "But that's coach's decision and I'm going to show up Wednesday and accept whatever role I'm given and go out and do it to the best of my ability."

It's not just the Vikings quarterbacks who are bruised and battered. The other players could use some rehab as well.

The Vikings have won just four of their last 17 games, and a once-proud defense that has carried the team during Childress' 1½-year tenure is starting to show some cracks in its bravado.

After Donovan McNabb threw for 333 yards and a touchdown against what has become a porous pass defense, normally cocksure safety Darren Sharper started to express some doubts.

"We watch tape and see other teams matched up good against him and see him struggle. Then he comes in here and picks us apart, which might be letting us know that we are not as good as we think we are," Sharper said. "A guy comes in that against other teams struggles and he comes in here and plays well. That is saying it all right there."

Linebacker Chad Greenway said the team remains united and has not lost confidence, but they realize how dire their situation has become.

"Our work is cut out for us," Greenway said. "We know that we're on the ropes and we have to just keep fighting. We're a fighting team."

Childress said he planned to address the team this week, emphasizing the positives he has seen to try and keep the players' attitudes from turning south.

"You have to press on and compete," Childress said. "These are tough times. Nobody likes it. But the opportunities are there. I need to make sure that I'm continuing to explore all of the opportunities to give our guys a chance to use their skills."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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