Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What's the backup plan?

So it looks like Tarvaris Jackson's sprained MCL won't be serious enough to make him miss any regular-season time, and he's even considering playing this week against Pittsburgh. I'd be against it, personally and let him rest up and, if needed, tune up in the final preseason game. Few starting quarterbacks need the practice more than Jackson, and missing the "best" preseason game would be a setback, but I'd rather see him fully healthy and ready to go for the regular season.

If Jackson can't go, it'll be up to Gus Frerotte to lead the team into Pittsburgh, and, while I've been harsh on Gus in the past, he's looked decent in the preseason. Take away his one hideous game from last year, a five-interception disaster against the Ravens, and his overall 2007 numbers aren't too awful. Plus, in his last full season with the starters, with the Dolphins in 2005, he passed for just shy of 3,000 yards (2,996) and 18 touchdowns against 13 interceptions.

But Frerotte is 37 years old, and the other two QBs are a rookie fifth-rounder (John David Booty) and an unimpressive journeyman (Brooks Bollinger). Jackson hasn't shown great durability; he missed four starts and parts of two other games in 2007 with injuries, and if he really is 6'2", 232 pounds, then Pat Williams is 317 pounds. In short, even if Jackson turns out to be a good quarterback, it would be unwise to expect him to be especially durable, making the question of who's going to back him up paramount to the team.

The short- and long-term answers to the backup question are probably Frerotte (who, at 37, is probably not that durable himself) and Booty. But when rosters are trimmed down following the third preseason games, the Vikings would be wise to scan the list of cut players to see if there's a quarterback out there who might fit their needs or work a trade involving a low-round draft pick. Perhaps Tampa Bay will part with Chris Simms or, when Charlie Batch returns to the Steelers, Byron Leftwich might be available (and desirable, if he performs well). The three-headed quarterback monster in San Francisco consists of a former #1 pick (Alex Smith) and two former Vikings (J.T. O'Sullivan and Shaun Hill), none of which I'd want as my long-term starter, but any of which would be decent fill-ins.

Whatever the case, I fear that, even if his MCL heals, Tarvaris Jackson won't start 16 games this year. His lean body and running play style probably don't bode well for his long-term health. The Vikings have two starting-caliber running backs, but they'd be wise to have to starting-caliber quarterbacks, too.

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