Jackson Is Vikings’ Best Hope

By Patrick Reusse
Updated: January 1, 2008
MINNESOTA — Mike Shanahan has been coaching the Denver Broncos for 13 seasons. He brought the franchise its two Super Bowl championships.

The last of those came in 1998. The Broncos have been in the playoffs four times in the nine seasons since then, and they have won a single playoff game.

It doesn’t seem to matter. Shanahan still is treated as an imperial presence. He gets cushy treatment in the media, and the public accepts his football pronouncements as though handed down on tablets.

That means, when Shanahan offers a glossy view of second-year quarterback Jay Cutler, people choose to believe him rather than what they saw in 2007 with their lyin’ eyes.

“Overall for him to play the way he did was certainly a credit to him,” Shanahan said after Sunday’s 22-19 overtime victory over the Vikings. “I think we have one heck of a quarterback for the future. I think that was evident in the way he played this year.”

Hold on there, pilgrim.

Why is it that Shanahan can get away with advertising his second-year quarterback as a cinch to be a star after he showed many flaws in a 7-9 season, and when Brad Childress gets around to announcing that he’s going to stick with his second-year quarterback (8-4 as a 2007 starter), VikesWorld is going to flip out?

We saw both of these products of the 2006 draft on the field for Sunday’s finale. Anyone who can say they saw much more potential in Cutler than they did in Tarvaris Jackson has been brainwashed by the Shanahan media machine that has a national reach.

Cutler has moments of indecision and can throw into triple-coverage with the best of them. What he does have at his disposal is Brandon Marshall, a rising superstar at receiver.

Cutler also had the advantage of playing at Vanderbilt against an SEC schedule. When you’re playing quarterback for lowly Vanderbilt in this country’s next best league to the NFL, you come into the pros with experience at handling adversity.

Jackson didn’t bring that with him from Alabama State. It’s clear that in Division I-AA he didn’t spend much time worrying about making the correct step up in the pocket to get away a throw.

That’s when we’ve seen Jackson at his worst — when he’s trying to stick with the play ordered from the sideline, the primary receiver is covered, and now it’s time to find options 2 or 3 as defenders close in on him.

His ugliest interceptions have been those floaters after he stepped toward traffic rather than away from it.

This 24-year-old has enough arm, enough mobility and enough competitiveness to be an above-average NFL starter. Can he add the pocket presence that would give the Vikings a proficient passing game to go with a top-echelon running game?

There’s no answer yet, but Jackson showed enough over the second half of the schedule that he deserves a chance to find that vital ingredient next season.

That was a determined, talented football player who led the Vikings on those two touchdown drives in Sunday’s final eight minutes. We had seen him do well previously at desperation time.

Doesn’t this tell us that Childress could get Jackson in a playmaking mode much earlier if he would go away from the stodgy West Crawl and put Jackson in a no-huddle for a series or two in future first halves?

Asked about Jackson’s effort in Sunday’s fast-break offense, center Matt Birk said: “He conducts himself real well in those situations. But you know what? I like the way he conducts himself throughout a game. He’s going to keep getting better.”

Jackson’s improvement is the best quarterback hope for the 2008 Vikings, when you consider the following:

Philadelphia is not going to trade Donovan McNabb after his spectacular finish to this season. Cleveland is not going to allow Derek Anderson to leave when it has no indication that Brady Quinn can play. That means the best of the readily available veterans could be Daunte Culpepper.

I don’t anticipate a Chilly and Pepper reunion. How about you?

That leaves drafting a quarterback, which would mean restarting the development process. That would be the ultimate in stupidity.

Childress will hold his end-of-season session with the local media on Thursday. He might as well make the announcement right then — that Tarvaris Jackson is the Vikings’ starting quarterback for 2008 — and get the serious teeth-gnashing out of the way for the Purple zealots.