By John Boyle Herald Writer
RENTON — The M innesota Vikings did not believe in Tarvaris Jackson as a starting quarterback. The Seattle Seahawks do.
And as the start of the 2011 season approaches, that belief by the Seahawks, more than anything else, will shape how the year plays out.
If Jackson is, as head coach Pete Carroll calls him, “a really good football player” and a “terrific leader,” then the Seahawks should contend for a repeat title in an NFC West that again will be far from formidable. If Jackson turns out to be the player who was benched for Gus Frerotte in 2008, and who wasn’t worth keeping when his contract ran out after the 2010 season — the second in a row Jackson spent backing up Brett Favre — then this figures to be a long year for the Seahawks as they begin their first season in a decade without Matt Hasselbeck under center.
This is the gamble the Seahawks took in the offseason. As the NFL lockout went on and on, wiping out an offseason worth of organized team activities and minicamps, Carroll and general manager John Schneider re-evaluated their plans at the game’s most important position. At the end of last season, re-signing Hasselbeck was, in Carroll’s words, the team’s top priority, but a deal was not reached before the lockout went into place in March. Then as the labor battle lasted into July, the Seahawks changed course. Instead of going hard after Hasselbeck in free agency, they made Jackson their top target. He had, after all, spent five seasons playing under Darrell Bevell, who the Seahawks hired in January as their offensive coordinator.
And throughout training camp, Carroll has had nothing but praise for Jackson, whom he named the starter at the beginning of camp. After losing his starting job one season, then spending the next two as part of the supporting cast in the annual Brett Favre drama, Jackson could be bitter. He could view this season as a chance to stick it to everyone who has ever doubted him. His chance to show the Vikings they made a mistake by not trying to re-sign him.
Instead, Jackson would rather focus on rewarding people who have had faith in him, including his new team.
“It’s a great opportunity to go out here and prove everybody right,” he said. “I don’t want to say prove everybody wrong. There are people who don’t believe in me, but it’s about proving the people that believe in me right.”
If that’s not Pete Carroll’s brand of positivity, what is?
Of course, for a quarterback to function, he needs help around him, as well as a locker room and huddle that believes in him. And if there was any doubt about the team getting behind Jackson, it should have been erased this week when his teammates voted him captain of the offense. Jackson still has to prove he can be a successful starter in Seattle, but he already has won the belief of his teammates.
“It’s a tough situation to come into with Matt leaving and so much criticism and ridicule for a guy who has yet to really have his shot to play,” wide receiver Mike Williams said. “It’s kind of unbelievable. If it’s overwhelming for a teammate, then it has to be enough for him. I kind of want to tell everybody, ‘Just back the hell up, let him play.'”
If Jackson’s teammates take the criticism of their quarterback harder than he does, that’s only because Jackson has so much practice at it. Jackson was once viewed as the future of the Vikings franchise, taking over the starting job in his second season, and compiling an 8-4 record in the games he started. But after an 0-2 start in 2008, the job went to Frerotte. Then Favre came to town. Then, after much deliberation, he came back for the 2010 season. Rather than feel sorry for himself, however, Jackson decided he might as well take advantage of having a future Hall-of-Famer in the locker room, and even though he played sparingly the past two seasons, he said he’s better for it.
“It helped me out a lot,” Jackson said. “Sitting back and watching someone do it who could do it at a very high level, I just tried to learn as much as I could from it and apply it to my game and grow as a quarterback. I still have learning to do, but I feel like I made strides in the last two years even though I wasn’t playing.”
But even with Favre finally out of the picture, trying to re-establish himself in the only NFL city he knew wasn’t really an option for Jackson.
“It was time,” he said. “I had some good times there, and I still feel like I could have done good things there, but when it came down to it, it was time to go.”
And despite starting a new chapter in his career, Jackson isn’t in an entirely foreign situation. He knows the offense having spent his entire career under Bevell, and has a 6-foot-4, Velcro-handed, athletic-as-heck security blanket in Sidney Rice, who was his teammate for four seasons in Minnesota before signing with Seattle in free agency. Bevell, who encouraged Carroll and Schneider to sign Jackson, has seen an improved and more mature quarterback in training camp this season.
“He really handled himself well in Minnesota in terms of all the challenges that he had,” Bevell said. “There were a lot of them. He made the most of the experience while he was there, whether it was playing or being benched. Then all of a sudden Brett Favre comes in, and he said, ‘Well, if I’m going to be sitting behind him, I might as well learn something from him.’ And he learned a lot. I can see some of the things that he picked up from Brett that have made his play better.”
So now Jackson is getting his chance. He acknowledges that, should he fail here, he may not get another chance to start in the NFL. But that won’t shake his confidence, not after so many ups and downs in Minnesota. And in Seattle, Jackson has found a team that believes in his abilities as much as he does.
“I think we have a really good football player in Tarvaris and a terrific leader and I’m excited that he’s on our team,” Carroll said. “I’ve been excited. All of our coaches have been. We’ve seen plenty. It’s a long haul. There are a lot of games coming at us and all that — we’ll see how he handles the rigors of the season and all–but there’s no reason to not think he’s going to be able to make the plays we want to make and run this team like we want him to run it.”
The question now, the one that will go a long way toward shaping this season, is if Carroll and the Seahawks are right about Jackson. Beginning Sunday, we’ll start to find out.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Seahawks coverage, check out the Seahawks blog at heraldnet.com/seahawksblog.