— MANKATO, Minn. - The football, launched with a subtle flick of Tarvaris Jackson’s right wrist, soared until it was a brown speck against a sky blue as a robin’s egg. It hit its apex and then started down some 60 yards from where Jackson launched it. There, its path intersected with the hands of Vikings wide receiver Sidney Rice who pulled it in on the dead run, ran away from a fallen defender and continued on into the end zone.
About 80 yards to the right of that action, Adrian Peterson — the best young running back in the NFL — was bursting through a crowd of defenders, high-stepping and miming stiff arms at guys like Kevin and Pat Williams, Jared Allen, Antonio Winfield and Chad Greenway. Peterson’s path during that drill was cleared by Steve Hutchinson, one of the league’s best offensive linemen for going on a decade. The first-round pick that fell into their laps, wideout Percy Harvin, wasn’t in Mankato for the first day of camp Friday. But he and his jaw-dropping speed will be once his contract gets hammered out.
Brett Favre isn’t here. But an absurd amount of talent — raw and established — is.
Allen, the irrepressible defensive end put it succinctly. “We have an absolute monster of a team.”
And while those words fall off the lips of players every year in late July, the Vikings are loaded. That’s a fact that this Summer of Favre obscured.
These Vikings won the NFC North last year despite being dented by injuries and dealing with the growing pains of the young but talented Jackson. They went 7-2 down the stretch, beat the Giants in a “win and you’re in” regular-season finale and finished 10-6.
Allen mused about what outside perception is about the Vikings now that Favre isn’t coming.
“People might look at the situation and say, ‘They didn’t get Favre so now …’ But do you underestimate a team? Only if you want your ass kicked. We’re not going to be the highlight of anybody’s coverage this year. We’re not gonna have 800 press passes handed out for every game for the Favre watch. So in that sense, yeah, maybe it is good. We can get back to business as normal.”
The first course of business in bringing normalcy is stopping the conversation about what sounds like a 70s R&B duo — Sage and Tarvaris — and whittling the quarterback situation down to one guy.
When will that happen?
“You mean how soon would I like it?” head coach Brad Childress asked Friday. “The sooner the better.”
At issue is figuring out whether the hugely-talented Jackson — a five-tool player, to borrow a baseball term — can play predictably. Because the less-gifted Rosenfels — a singles-hitting middle infielder — can do that.
“You need a guy that’s consistent, that you know exactly what standard you’ll get from him every time,” Childress said. “(A guy who) makes the routine plays routinely.”
And how is that judged in camp?
“It’s everything. Who moves the team? What’s it look like in competitive periods? How about the plays where something breaks down and you just need to live to play another snap? Snap counts. Understanding. Accuracy.”
And mental serenity, something Jackson said he let slip away during the first two weeks of 2008 when he played poorly in an 0-2 Vikings start.
“My focus this year is on just being me,” Jackson said Friday after camp’s first practice. Being Tarvaris Jackson. Having fun, not thinking. Thinking too much gets you in trouble on the field and that’s what happened to me last year early in the season and kind of what happened to me in the Philly game.”
Ahhh, the Philly game. The NFC Wild Card game at the Metrodome in which Jackson went 15 for 35, looked jumpy all game in the face of Philly’s pressure and threw a pick to Asante Samuel that got taken back for a score.
Minnesota lost 26-14. It still burns because the Vikings team that showed up that day was not the team that closed the season on a tear.
“It’s all about consistency,” Allen said. “You look at that Philly game, we screwed up two plays. We had a pick to the house and a screen where they called the right play against the right defense and they blocked it up (a 71-yard touchdown to Brian Westbrook). Two plays … I'll even take it to one play. We don’t let the screen go to the house, we win that game. But you notice that the teams that are consistently good come through. We were good and we were right there.”
There is no eye-rolling from Allen about Jackson’s performance that day. Despite the flirtations with Favre, the unity the team showed even on Day 1 of camp is either a pretty good act or the real thing.
“If I was in the spot (Jackson was in where the team considered a replacement), I’d go out and have the best year of my career,” Allen said. “And I’ve known TJ for a year. He’s a strong kid. He’s got all the elements to be a great player. In this situation you have to be strong minded to get through this. If you’re weak-minded you’ll fold. I don’t see that in him at all and I think he comes through this and you’ll see a better Tarvaris Jackson.”
The Favre Circus has ended. The klieg lights are out. And the Vikings are fine with the quiet.
“We’re not trying to hide from anybody but there’s nothing wrong with speaking softly and carrying a big stick,” Allen said. “My stance always was that (Favre) was a bonus. We have a phenomenal team. It is professional football. The wire is always open (for additions). But it’s over with. The people in this building are the ones we’ll win a championship with.”