Now on a team that prides itself in second chance, the new Seahawks quarterback is starting over, just like he did in college when he transferred from Arkansas to Alabama State.
The last time Tarvaris Jackson had a second chance, he was in a Ford Expedition driving 10 hours from Arkansas back home to Alabama.
That was December 2002, when Jackson left the Razorbacks and the SEC after his redshirt freshman season to enroll at Alabama State, the Division I-AA school in his hometown of Montgomery, Ala.
And before anyone rushes to judgment on Jackson’s chances here in Seattle, take a moment to hear the rest of the story. He has rebooted before, and the results were better than anyone had a right to expect as he played his way into being a second-round draft choice.
Some jumped to conclusions then, too, saying he couldn’t cut it as a top-notch quarterback.
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“Some people probably did think that,” Jackson said. “But I didn’t think that. Same way here. I took it as a new opportunity to try to get where I’m trying to get, be the quarterback I’m trying to be.”
This second chance is about as ripe as they come. Jackson, 28, was hand-picked to replace Matt Hasselbeck, reunited with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, whom he played for in Minnesota, and given the reins as the starter before he could even practice.
“This is a new life for him,” coach Pete Carroll said. “And it’s about as good as you could hope for. He’s got receivers around him. He’s got a good team. He’s got a play-caller he knows. He’s got a head coach that supports the heck out of him.”
Looks for a fair chance
Jackson will get his first chance at proving he’s more than a bridge to the future after supplanting Charlie Whitehurst on the Seahawks’ QB food chain. And still there are plenty of people who believe they know how this story will end.
First impressions are hard to shake, and five years in Minnesota were enough for some people to render a final verdict. Jackson lost the Vikings’ starting job the previous three years, the last two without ever taking a regular-season snap, as Brett Favre decided to give it the old college try once again.
This is the part of the story where you could assemble a scenario in which Jackson really didn’t get a fair chance, that the depth chart got stacked against him. For all the criticism he took, the Vikings were 10-10 in games he started and he owns a better career passer rating (76.6) than Kevin Kolb (73.2), the quarterback Arizona gave up the NFL equivalent of a firstborn son to acquire.
The truth is, Minnesota wanted Jackson to succeed. He was picked by coach Brad Childress, and the Vikings traded up to acquire him. If things had worked out in 2008, when Jackson began the year as the starter, Favre wouldn’t have entered the equation. Jackson’s five years in Minnesota were enough to cast question on his durability and his accuracy.
But now — for the first time in years — the past doesn’t matter. And Jackson knows this because he has started over under circumstances even more chaotic than this.
Easy is a way out, not a path Tarvaris Jackson has ever followed.
You don’t get strong enough to bench press more than 400 pounds by lowering the bar. You’ve got to push. Hard. And that work ethic at Alabama State was as evident in the weight room as it was in studying film. He didn’t just attend 6 a.m. weightlifting appointments, he arrived early, and got so strong he could bench 405. Jackson didn’t transfer to Alabama State because he wanted a job handed to him.
“He came back because he wanted the opportunity,” said Charles Coe, Jackson’s coach at Alabama State.
Leaving Arkansas wasn’t easy. But Jackson found himself behind a rock, stuck in the hard place of backing up Matt Jones, a future first-round pick who was only a year older than Jackson.
“It was a sad time for me,” Jackson said. “I really didn’t want to leave, but I felt like it was best for my career. I knew that I really wasn’t going to get my shot there.”
He wasn’t going to wait two seasons to see if he got his shot as a senior. So he packed up his Expedition and drove home after the 2002 Southeastern Conference Championship game, enrolled at Alabama State and prepared to play the following season, only to have the rug yanked out from under him. Again. A week before training camp, the team’s coach, L.C. Cole, was fired.
“I just transferred, went home, and now I had to deal with this,” Jackson said. “It’s kind of like, ‘What’s next?'”
Coe was the replacement. His son, Michael, had been Jackson’s teammate at Arkansas. In fact, Jackson hosted Michael Coe on his recruiting visit for the Razorbacks. The coach found himself inheriting a quarterback equipped for anything, who led the team to a 2004 Southwestern Athletic Conference championship.
“He has all the physical tools and all the mental tools,” said Coe, who later was an assistant coach with the Oakland Raiders and is now at Texas Southern.
“Tarvaris just needs to have an opportunity to play,” Coe said.
The Seahawks didn’t settle for Jackson.
They wanted him so much they offered him a contract and closed the door on re-signing Hasselbeck.
Seattle will start a season with a new quarterback for the first time in more than a decade. It remains to be seen if this season will be remembered more for Hasselbeck’s departure or Jackson’s arrival.
Jackson can move, his arm is strong, his release quick. The questions have been about his decision making and accuracy. While there are plenty who believe they know exactly what Jackson is, he’s now on a team that prides itself as a league leader in rebounds.
“When you get guys that have been kind of beat up pretty much,” Carroll said, “this is a good place for them to come.”
Receiver Mike Williams led the Seahawks with 65 receptions last season after spending the previous two years out of the league entirely. Leon Washington nearly made the Pro Bowl after the New York Jets were willing to give him up for late-round draft position. Carroll himself has been fired twice as an NFL coach, offensive line coach Tom Cable fired once.
“All of these guys are guys that have been given up on in a sense by the places they’ve been,” Carroll said. “And they’ve come here and found new life, and I’m proud that we’re able to reconstruct a guy’s shot at finishing his career or rejuvenating his career, because we’re willing to.”
Instead of looking only at what they’ve been, Carroll considers what they still might become.
“We’re willing to take a look and see the best in people,” he said, “and then to think we have a chance to bring it out of them.”
So Seattle looks at Jackson and sees someone who has got a chance to play his way into the team’s future. He has starting experience and a command of Seattle’s playbook.
The Seahawks didn’t mortgage their future to acquire Jackson. While $4 million a year is significant, it’s not so much that it would prevent Seattle addressing the position again next year.
But first, Seattle is going to give Jackson something he has already shown he can take advantage of: a second chance. But this time he didn’t have to drive his SUV 10 hours to reach that fresh start.