Praise for All Things Tarvaris Jackson, Backup Quarterback

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Medical science saved my mom's life on Tuesday. There's a certain common sense Platonic Idealism that nurtures and spreads the embittering assumption that the world is some imperfect expression of what the world could and should be. That any corruption is ultimate corruption. That conflicting values of family and society should harmonize, and no one should be advantaged because someone rich and powerful loves them, and--

Just kidding.

Today I am interested only in what is, and what is is backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. What is to follow is an elaborate framing device that will allow me to be exceptionally laudatory of Jackson. That framing device will involve lowering expectations to a point that I think Jackson would find insulting. That framing device will, should I succeed, concisely contextualize just how GD remarkable this insultingly lowered expectation, you know, is.

The cat we're talking about did some things you wouldn't believe. He was a three-star recruit out of high school both for his talents in basketball, and for his talents at wide receiver, but it was at quarterback that he had excelled. I do not want to make any big assumptions about you, the readership at large, so I'll go ahead and crap on myself. Somewhere maybe credible I read that there are on average each year 254,000 high school seniors that play football. When it was my chance I was not among them for various reasons, some embarrassing others that would shame me. Had I, I would have played safety or fullback, and I would have been that try-hard guy that makes everyone miserable in practice with his abundant hustle, knowledge of the playbook and good chatter; and been an out-and-out liability in-game, when actual talents give a damn. Basically: high school Brian Russell, the lesser. This guy, this guy I want to talk about, he would have stiff-armed me into mud. He would have juked me into a concussion. He would have eaten up my cushion so fast that my good angle would become me lunging at an after-image older than starlight. He would instantly and permanently turn my dreams of football glory into dreams of chasing me hat.

He out-competed two future NFL quarterbacks. He had the kind of games against the kind of talent that pops from the television set. Against Earl Thomas, Lamarr Houston, Sergio Kindle and Sam Acho, plus some other guys like Alex Okafor, Roddrick Muckelroy, Keenan Robinson, Kheeston Randall, and coached by Will Muschamp, he completed 79% of his passes for 11.4 AY/A: four touchdowns, an interception, and, oh yeah, 97 yards rushing on 14 attempts including a sensational jail break scramble for 47 yards. Cat straight took off.

This guy, this guy that I'm belaboring the point about his talent, to somehow someway cut through the human brain's unquenchable lust for normalization, this guy that would whoop ass one-on-11 against a hoard of John Morgans, that whooped ass against actual talent, that whooped ass against genetic abnormalities that've honed their skills through thousands of hours of grueling practice, this guy of the thousandth of a percentage freakdom we demand so we may yell at and insult and judge, this guy is Jerrod Johnson, the now-failed professional quarterback Seattle cut after it signed Tarvaris Jackson.

. . .

Jackson sounded a touch bitter in his postgame interview, after last week's preseason win. The guy Seattle traded last season said of the difference between his experience with the Seahawks now and his experience with the Seahawks last time around, that the team was much more talented. Returning every starter, I can't help but note that the difference in talent from when Jackson was on the team last, you know this time last year, and now is the talent difference at quarterback. But I like the bitterness. Jackson wants to start. Jackson wants to be great. And some five, ten years from now, when Jackson can reflect on being the primary backup to a young superstar, he'll maybe be granted the wisdom to see: he's already great. He's already amazing.

Specifically he's a great backup to Russell Wilson, a great backup quarterback for the Darrell Bevell offense of the Seattle Seahawks. Here's why:

Jackson has a similar talent-/skill-set to Wilson


I'm breaking no new ground here so let's move on. Here's another quick and damning jab at Jackson made only so I may be exclusively positive from here on out: he cannot read a defense on the fly, rarely completes more than two reads, and is often late in executing a pass to either read. Okay. Sorry, brother. And enough.

This above all else separates Jackson from Wilson, but could we hardwire a receiver to Jackson's brain and make him playable by Xbox controller, much of what you could with Wilson you could with Jackson. Meaning the Seahawks offense can practice for one playbook, master the minimum number of plays needed, and achieve the kind of flow players achieve within high-functioning offenses. One of if not the greatest offense ever executed is the small set of plays and contingent plays Peyton Manning can gesticulate his team into lining up and executing. Every team should seek this simplicity. Jackson, unlike Flynn or Brady Quinn, requires no compromise or corruption. His playbook would presumably be pared down, if that, and nothing else.

Jackson succeeds in small samples

That's convoluted, let me fix that ...

Jackson can be highly effective if he plays within his abilities

That last bit of criticism, let's examine its mirror image. Jackson has made some beautiful throws over the years, lasers, bombs, even a few that found the receiver in-stride. He has the arm strength. He has the ability to throw on the move. And mostly he has the accuracy. This once upon a time earned him the designation of "inconsistent." All players are inconsistent. Good players have fewer great games than great players and fewer bad games than bad players, but all have a range of performances, all are inconsistent. Bad players earn the description inconsistent by being good, and thus looking like good and great players. Good and great players are good: great players when they're sorta bad; good players most of the time. "Inconsistent" really just means "too often bad."

So long as Jackson is not tasked with making lots of reads, the inevitable result of playing enough snaps against enough looks, and amassing enough recent tape to be effectively game-planned against, as long as Jackson is a spot starter, he can be the engine for an effective passing attack. To wit ...

Jackson is best suited for spot starts

The backup quarterback is like a relief ace. Oliver Perez can no longer start games. But if you're winning 3-2 and it's the seventh and you need three outs, Perez is excellent. Whatever Carroll would say were he put into the position, Seattle has no meaningful aspirations of winning if Wilson is out for the season. Ready the Promethazine because I'm about to mention the 2005 Steelers. When righteous justice struck down Roethlisberger for four games in 2005, Pittsburgh turned first to Tommy Maddox and then to Charlie Batch. One still plays in the National Football League.

Batch started two games against two opponents that combined to finish 10-22: the Packers and the Browns. He attempted 35 passes total in those two games. The Steelers won both. Had they lost either, they would not have won the AFC North. Had the Steelers lost to the Browns, they would have tied at 10-6 with the Chiefs, tied at 4-2 in conference games, and lost the tiebreaker 4-1 to 3-1 against common opponents and missed the playoffs. Ken Whisenhunt designed a stripped-down, low-stress offense for Batch, one that would limit mistakes and put the game's outcome in the hands of Pittsburgh's defense, special teams and running game. Batch succeeded enough, the Steelers won and the rest of the story can be found etched in blood in the Necronomicon.

This is Tarvaris Jackson: exceptionally gifted but a micron removed from the bleeding edge of talent needed to make it as a starting quarterback in the NFL. We normalize what is amazing. If we didn't we couldn't drive cars. Highways would instantly erupt into seething graveyards of twisted metal. But do what an acid head does, tap into that stoner cliché of "have you ever just looked at your hand?" and see the power, grace and skill of the worst of the best. Because though we all dearly hope to never see him starting, the Seahawks are damn lucky to have one of the best of the-not-quite-good-enough: The brilliance that is Tarvaris Jackson, backup quarterback.

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