EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — Tarvaris Jackson has taken plenty of heat for his performance, and physically he's been hurt a lot too over four NFL seasons. Last summer, he was brushed aside for Brett Favre.
For all Jackson has been beat up or bumped back, though, he can't hide his smile.
There it was, on Wednesday after practice with the Minnesota Vikings, spreading fast across his face when asked if he had a gut feeling about whether Favre will return or not.
"Yeah, I do. I'm not going to share it," Jackson said, flashing that grin. "But I think everybody has their feeling, and I think everybody is pretty much on the same page."
That sure sounded like an expectation Favre will be Minnesota's quarterback again this year. Jackson said he's traded text messages a few times with the 40-year-old star, but insisted they talked only about "life stuff" and not football. Jackson said he "wouldn't dare ask" the burning question about Favre's status for 2010.
"That's not even in my character," Jackson said.
Well, how about Favre's health, the left ankle he's considering surgery on?
"I don't know," Jackson said, laughing. "I didn't even know he was hurt."
Jackson attempted 21 passes last season, the fewest since he turned pro and all in mop-up duty — "Every time I got in the game last year, the game was pretty much over with," he said, smiling again.
Jackson signed a one-year, $1.176 million tender as a restricted free agent, and he's in an eerily similar situation to the last offseason. One difference is that the Vikings, and the rest of the football world, seem to have less doubt that Favre will play. Another is that Jackson's career path has become even less clear, given his contract status, still-mixed scouting report and Favre's noncommittal nature.
"I'm basically worrying about myself and trying to get better. That's all I can do," Jackson said, repeating what has become his go-to quote since Favre first became a rumor for Minnesota before last season.
So how does a guy truly get better in May?
And is it possible for a player like Jackson, who struggled more than he succeeded over the 20 games he started for Minnesota, to have improved simply by watching Favre without significant time on the field?
"It depends on what you say significant is," head coach Brad Childress said. "You see it from a whole different seat when you watch it and when you have kind of a grizzled vet in there. I've seen progress out here just in terms of his approach in the huddle, at the line of scrimmage, how he's moving through the system.
"A lot of times it takes time, and you see somebody who is a master at the system and say, 'Oh, OK. That's another thing I need to be able to do.'"
Jackson said he found last season enjoyable and beneficial, despite the lack of action.
"It was just fun being around a guy with his personality in the meeting rooms every day, keeping the guys light," Jackson said of Favre. "At the same time, he had a serious mentality. He had a serious approach to each day and trying to get better. Watching him going through 16 regular season games and the playoff games, it really helped me out as a quarterback."
Jackson, though, realizes the limitation of being an understudy, even if it is to the NFL's all-time leading passer.
"It's like basketball. Anybody can hit a jumper when you're wide open. There's no pressure. But when there's a lot of pressure on you, it's a little different," he said. "But you can learn to take that same approach. Let it all hang out."
For now, he'll continue to go through drills and workouts with fellow quarterbacks Sage Rosenfels, Joe Webb and R.J. Archer and try not to think too much about if, or when, Favre might reappear.
"I've been through so much the last couple of years, it's kind of like, 'Everything happens for a reason,'" Jackson said. "I'm not giving up on anything, but just let it play how it's going to play because you can't control it. If I had control and I had my choice on how things were going to happen, I'd be the starter, I wouldn't have had all those injuries, I would've never got benched and all that stuff."