Monday, September 17, 2007
Give the Kid a Chance
Vikings fans, I know it hurts to see your once glorious offensive juggernaut reduced to a dink-and-dunk three-and-out spree, but try to be patient. It can't stay this bad forever; at least I think it can't.
No, eventually head coach Brad Childress will take the handcuffs off Tarvaris Jackson and maybe, just maybe, he'll figure out how to throw something other than a seven-yard slant with accuracy. Maybe.
I mean really, how much could anyone have possibly expected from a guy who never played a down of Div-1A football before turning pro? Not to mention the fact that the team cut three of the receivers they had in camp who actually hang onto the ball when it's thrown to them (Billy McMullen, Martin Nance and Jason Carter anyone?).
All along I've been an advocate for letting Jackson play and figure things out on his own. He's talented enough to make things happen, but therein lies the problem with the handling of him to this point.
Childress and the offensive coaching staff has him so wound up with making precise reads and being technically sound that they've stripped him of his biggest strength, his own athletic instincts.
Anyone who saw him play at Alabama State will tell you that in those days Jackson was a dynamic playmaker with raw talent oozing from his pores. And while it's important for him to develop as a pocket passer and a guy who can read defenses, the Vikings have gone a bit overboard and bogged him down with too much information all at once.
A lot of people want to make the Michael Vick comparison and I think that's a bit off. Jackson is not the type of dynamic, game-changing athlete that Vick was despite similar builds and arm strength.
A better comparison in my mind is between Jackson and current Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia. Jackson clearly has a much stronger arm than Garcia, but like Garcia is at his best on the move as opposed to stuck in the pocket.
Garcia benefited early on in his career from steeping into an offense in San Francisco that was previously led by Steve Young who himself was a quarterback with quality athleticism. So when Garcia took over, the coaching staff for the 49ers knew how to utilize a mobile QB and keep things simple for him.
This is where I don't quite understand Childress' use of Jackson. Coming over from Philadelphia where he had Donovan McNabb one would think that an offense tailored around a quarterback with running skills would be right up Childress' alley. Instead he's taken the conservative route with Jackson and tried to mold him into something he's not.
I was always taught that you build your scheme around the players you have and their unique abilities. This is a tried and true Bill Walsh coaching tenant that Childress has apparently forgotten.
We saw it last year with the total misuse of the tight end position as a weapon in the passing game and we're seeing it already this year as Childress tries as hard as he can to fit Jackson's square peg abilities into the round hole of the pocket.
Am I suggesting that the Vikings should go spread option a la Tennessee and Vince Young? No. What I am suggesting is that Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell need to find more opportunities for Jackson to use his legs to set up the pass (i.e. naked boot legs, sprint out passes, etc.).
On top of that they need to take more than one or two shots down the field in the course of a game as well. A few foul ball deep passes aren't going to get defenses to loosen up on what could be an explosive Vikings running game, they need to let Jackson try and stretch the deep middle of the field from time to time.
This is where the tight ends and even a guy like Mewelde Moore would come into play if Childress would commit to working the seams a bit more instead of always having his backs and tight ends run curls, hitches and circle routes out of the backfield.
Spread the field a bit, line Moore or free agent pickup Visanthe Shiancoe up in the slot once in a while and force a linebacker or safety to play those guys one-on-one. Create those types of mismatches down the field and let Jackson and his big time arm do the rest.
The kid is going to make mistakes like we saw on Sunday against Detroit, that's just a fact of life with a young quarterback. But giving him opportunities to succeed and make plays on his own is a necessary step in his development.
I've seen Jackson work, I am confident he has it in him to be a quality NFL quarterback, all he needs is to get the ball rolling his way and the sky is the limit.