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The Minnesota Vikings selected Alabama State quarterback Tarvaris Jackson in the second round of the 2006 NFL draft.
AP photo by Ann Heisenfelt
The Minnesota Vikings selected Alabama State quarterback Tarvaris Jackson in the second round of the 2006 NFL draft.

Alabama State product gets Vikings' starting nod
Rookie quarterback impresses coaches against Jets

By Jon Krawczynski
Associated Press Writer

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — When he drafted Tarvaris Jackson out of Alabama State in April, Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress called him "a piece of clay" that needed to be molded into a starting quarterback.

Eight months later — and a lot sooner than expected considering the playoffs are still a possibility for the Vikings (6-8) — Childress is throwing Jackson into the kiln at Lambeau Field.

It's Tarvaris Time in Minnesota.

Childress announced Tuesday that Jackson will start the final two games of the season, including Thursday night's pivotal game at Green Bay, replacing veteran Brad Johnson.

Childress said Jackson "gives us the best chance to win right now."

"I have high expectations for him," Childress said. "He's prepared. He's ready to go."

Childress has benched Johnson three times this season, with the final move coming in the closing seconds of the third quarter of Sunday's loss to the New York Jets. Johnson was 10-of-17 for 96 yards and a touchdown, but failed to move the offense effectively after throwing a TD to Travis Taylor on his third snap of the game.

After Johnson was booed off the field by the home crowd, Jackson entered with 25 seconds left in the third period to a standing ovation. He threw for 177 yards, one touchdown and one interception in a performance deemed "OK" by Childress.

"It feels great, especially going into Green Bay and playing against Brett Favre," Jackson said. "Coach made a decision, and I just feel good that he feels comfortable enough to put me in."

The rookie has been fiercely loyal to Johnson throughout the season, defending his mentor against mounting criticism and refusing to lobby for a start.

Everything came to a head last week against the Jets, when the home crowd booed Johnson every time he took the field and chanted "We Want Jackson! We Want Jackson!"

"You hate for it to happen like that," Jackson said Tuesday. "Brad's been so good for us this year and over his career. I've learned so much from him.

"A lot of things you'll see me do will be because of me watching him, him helping me out so much. I just hate to see it happen like that."

It was a fast fall for the 38-year-old Johnson, who was the darling of Vikings fans last season after taking over for the injured Daunte Culpepper and leading the team to a 7-2 finish. He never was able to recapture the magic this season, all too often failing to move the offense while being handcuffed by a mediocre receiving corps and some conservative play calling by Childress.

The move could mark the end of Johnson's second stint with the Vikings. He's under contract through 2008.

Johnson was unavailable for comment Tuesday. Childress said Johnson handled the news, "just like the pro he is."

Jackson brings a much stronger arm and better mobility to the table, but will undoubtedly be wide-eyed heading into his first start in one of the NFL's most storied stadiums.

"If you're not nervous, something's probably wrong with you," Jackson said. "This is my first NFL start. I really don't know the feeling or how I'm going to feel during the game. It really hasn't hit me yet. I have to get on the field first."

His teammates are supportive while at the same time showing deference to Johnson, one of the most respected players in the locker room.

"He wasn't scared, which is good," center Matt Birk said of Jackson's demeanor last week. "You can't be scared, you can't be tentative, you can't be afraid to fail. It seems like his head is in the right spot."

With still so much on the line for the Vikings (6-8) — it's a possibility that an 8-8 team will make the playoffs in the NFC — some would see turning to a rookie quarterback as throwing in the towel on the season.

But free safety Darren Sharper, who has been critical of the sluggish offense this season, said he has faith in Jackson.

"I don't see him as being that type of guy to get caught up in all the hoopla with the game," Sharper said.

"He's a pretty even-keeled guy. He's been extremely poised since the first day he stepped on the practice field with us, so I think that's going to carry over to the game in Green Bay."

Childress called Jackson "a quick study," but is ready for the typical growing pains.

"I'm not foolish enough to think, having coached rookies before, that this won't continue to evolve," Childress said. "He's not going to be a finished product."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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