This is a multiple part series in which I will be breaking down the Vikings position battles, highlighting what players need to do to win their respective starting position.
There are no questions asked, Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson's time is running out in Minnesota unless he can prove to be the quarterback head coach Brad Childress scouted before drafting him in the second-round of the 2006 NFL Draft.
There are many positives I have seen out of the fourth-year quarterback from Alabama State along with many negatives that seem to cast a shadow over any game Jackson has shined in during his career.
This summer in Mankato, Minn., the Vikings training camp site, Jackson will have what might be his last chance to prove this is his team when he competes against Sage Rosenfels, who the team acquired via trade with the Houston Texans for a fourth-round pick in March.
These are five things I am looking for out of Jackson during training camp practices that will guide atop the depth chart and into the huddle week one when the Vikings travel to Cleveland.
1. Handle Pressure Effectively
In the Vikings' loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Wildcard Playoffs, the difference in the game was Jackson's inability to throw efficiently when the pocket collapsed and he was forced to move his feet.
This was highlighted in the second quarter of that game when Jackson faced a small pocket with hardly any room to step up and throw. Instead, he threw a pass with hardly any force behind it that was intercepted by cornerback Asante Samuel who took it 44 yards to pay dirt and put the Eagles up 16-7 in a game they won 26-14.
In training camp, Jackson will need to prove to Childress that this is a mistake of the past and that he can step up in the pocket while facing the blitz and hit receivers in small windows.
2. Take What the Defense Gives Him
Too many times over the past two seasons I have seen Jackson miss receivers on routine slant and comeback routes.
I know it is cliche, but he must be able to hit receivers when they are the easy option and can take some of the heat off running Adrian Peterson by giving him some more short yardage plays where he can pick up the first down with his legs.
The best quarterbacks can fit the ball into tight windows, much less hit receivers that will automatically get the offense a quick eight yards.
Watch for Jackson's effectiveness in training camp when it comes the timing of his passes. He has all the physical skills (arm strength, vision) to get receivers the ball, he just tries to do too much instead of hitting receivers for a guaranteed chunk of yardage.
I have already seen Jackson suffer serious injuries by trying to pick up yardage that simply isn't there because of linebackers and defensive backs closing in on him.
Let's rewind to the second preseason game of 2008 when he tried to run through Ravens linebacker Antwan Barnes instead of taking the ball out of bounds about four feet away. Jackson only came away with a sprained right knee but it definitely could have been a lot worse.
I also remember him being knocked unconscious against the San Diego Chargers (Adrian Peterson's 296 yards rushing game) due to not getting down soon enough and was lost for the game.
Now, I know nobody is allowed to touch the quarterbacks in training camp practices, but Jackson needs to learn how to get down when he runs up the field with the football. He can't win the starting quarterback job if he suffers a serious injury in the preseason.
4. Be a Leader
Much has been made about the improvements Jackson has made at being a good communicator in the huddle and the locker room since he took over the starting job in 2006 as a rookie.
But from the recent comments by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Pat Williams about Jackson's work ethic, the young gun still has more to prove to his teammates about his character.
If you get as close to the fields at Vikings training camp as I do, watch Jackson and his leadership in the huddle. For him to win the starting job and regain the confidence from his teammates, he will need to show that this is his offense.
Jackson has never had a problem with understanding the playbook and giving receivers directions, he just needs to be the vocal fourth-year veteran that the younger players look up to.
5. Don't Make the Big Mistake
This goes back to the intercepted pass by Samuel that went for a touchdown that I mentioned earlier. In that instance, anyone would agree with me that Jackson should have taken the sack instead of trying to do too much with the ball.
The Vikings were only down by two points at the time with a defense that had shut down running back Brian Westbrook and contained quarterback Donovan McNabb. But Jackson gave the Eagles a larger lead that they wouldn't give up to seal the Minnesota's fate in 2008.
I will admit, he has been getting better at throwing the ball away when there is nothing available downfield but there are always those moments where he has the deer in the headlights look and makes a mistake that can kill a team.
This summer in practice, Jackson will do his best to eliminate turnovers and forced passes to give the offense another chance to make something happen with all their talent.
Although Tarvaris Jackson has come a long way since his days as an Alabama State Hornet and has had his share of growing pains as most young quarterbacks do when entering the National Football League.
I am confident Jackson is making the necessary preparations for the upcoming season and to defend his starting position.
Three more months until we see how the kid rebounds.
Next Article: Five Things Sage Rosenfels Must Do to Win the Quarterback Job