EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Tarvaris Jackson's time as Minnesota's starting quarterback has already come and gone twice, a performance unimpressive enough that it prompted the Vikings to start planning recruiting trips to Mississippi.
If this week leads to another opportunity, Jackson is insistent he's far better for it.
"I've been working hard throughout this whole process, and I'll continue to work hard," said Jackson, suddenly the subject of interviews again with Brett Favre's status uncertain for Sunday's game at New England. "Now it's about continuing to go out there and make plays."
Can a quarterback actually improve when all he's doing on the weekends is watching?
"Oh, yeah," Jackson said Monday after Minnesota revealed Favre has two fractures in his left ankle that could keep him on the sideline for the first time since 1992. "I feel like I've improved a lot in the last year-and-a-half watching Brett. I feel like I've like I've come a long way, probably the farthest I've come from year to year, even though I didn't play a whole lot."
Specifically, Jackson said he has a stronger grasp of pass protection concepts and how to quickly read his blockers, his receivers and the defense before deciding where and when to throw.
"I'm not Brett, and I understand that and a lot of the stuff that he sees I probably won't see," Jackson said. "But I'm a different player. I can move around a little bit more. Good things will come my way. I know I'm not going to go out there and operate the same way he's going to operate, but I feel like I've learned a lot from him. I'm not going to try to be him. I learned a lot from him that will help me play and be better."
Jackson spoke confidently, almost as if he's already assumed the role. Given Favre's body language during and after last Sunday's loss at Green Bay and the diagnosis of the injury that came Monday from coach Brad Childress, a return by Jackson to the starting job would hardly be a shock.
But given Favre's history of high pain tolerance and the competitive drive that's helped make him so famous, well, Jackson remaining the backup would hardly be stunning, either. Favre has started 315 consecutive NFL games, after all.
"Brett, he's a warrior, so I'd be real surprised if he don't play," Jackson said, "but I'm going to be ready to play if my number is called."
After two starts as a rookie 2006, Jackson was given the job in 2007. Even with the emergence of a certain rookie running back named Adrian Peterson to help keep defenses from focusing only on the passing game, Jackson often looked erratic and overwhelmed. Despite an 8-4 record as a starter that year, missing four games due to a variety of injuries, he threw only nine touchdown passes and never cracked the 250-yard mark.
Without any other appealing options, the Vikings kept Jackson as the starter in 2008 until an ugly performance in a home loss to Indianapolis brought boos from the Metrodome crowd and a switch by Childress to veteran Gus Frerotte the following week. Jackson took the job back later that year after Frerotte was hurt, but after a solid stretch in December he was harassed by blitz-happy Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs, a defeat that ultimately triggered the first pursuit of Favre. The Vikings went back to get Favre again this year, too.
A year ago, Jackson and Sage Rosenfels were the guys on the sidelines. But Rosenfels was traded to the New York Giants last month, leaving Jackson and rookie Joe Webb as the backups.
Jackson, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, said he's not trying to prove himself at this point.
"I'm not looking forward to next year right now. Just try to do our best right now. Just try to win a Super Bowl this year," said Jackson, whose career record in 20 starts including one postseason game is 10-10.
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For an unpolished product of small-school Alabama State, Jackson came to the NFL as a second-round draft pick in need of plenty of development time. Perhaps he's a late bloomer or maybe he'll never flourish, but if Favre is hurt badly enough to rest, Jackson will soon have the chance to prove one theory or the other.
"Hopefully it translates to the field, but this is the best I ever felt," Jackson said.
His teammates were consistently supportive of him before Favre's arrival last year, and if Jackson indeed takes over there likely won't be much public skepticism coming from the Minnesota locker room.
"We've got nothing but utmost confidence in him," defensive tackle Kevin Williams said.