The guts. That’s what they remember most. His teammates all have slightly different names for it. Character, some say. Or unselfishness. Or sacrifice.
But when you boil it down and strip it bare, what’s left are guts — and not the kind you find on the floor at Pike Place Market. The kind that make teammates say things like this:
“You can’t really put into words our appreciation for him for sticking with it that entire year,” wide receiver Doug Baldwin says. “Everybody loves him and appreciates him for everything he did that season.”
Or makes coaches say things like this: “He’s a real favorite,” Pete Carroll says.
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That’s what Tarvaris Jackson means to the Seahawks. He is a backup quarterback who has spent time in training camp working with the third-team offense. He is locked in competition with Brady Quinn to be Russell Wilson’s backup, and although he is expected to win the job, nothing is certain regarding his future with the Seahawks.
But Jackson, 30, is revered in the locker room because of the way he handled himself in 2011. The way he stood in the frying pan and didn’t get scrambled. The way he fell on the sword when things didn’t go well. The way he played through pain when other guys might not have been able or willing to.
He started that year and played most of the season with a strained pectoral muscle. For more than a month the injury kept him from practicing on back-to-back days. He likely wouldn’t have played if the Seahawks had a suitable backup. They didn’t. They had Charlie Whitehurst and that meant even a hurt Jackson gave the Seahawks the best chance to win.
Baldwin was a wide-eyed rookie that season, and the Seahawks were playing the Cincinnati Bengals in a game he still remembers. Whitehurst started at quarterback because Jackson was too hurt to play. He also hadn’t played the week before. By the second quarter, though, Whitehurst was such a disaster that Carroll called on Jackson to relieve him.
Jackson attempted 40 passes in the loss. He was harassed on many of them. He was hit 12 times, and after a couple of those shots, when he stepped back into the huddle, Jackson remained calm as ever.
“At that moment you could tell his leadership capabilities were through the roof,” Baldwin says. “It was unparallel to anything I’ve seen before. It was just one of those moments where there’s one guy in the huddle everyone is staring at, and you don’t feel anybody else but him.”
Jackson also shouldered much of the blame
publicly in a year the Seahawks went 7-9. When asked midway through the season to grade himself, Jackson said: “We’re a 2-5 team, and a quarterback’s (job) is to help the team win as much as possible. We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but 2-5 is failing. So I guess I got an F right now.”
After a loss to Dallas in which he didn’t play well, he said: “Poor decisions on my part. I feel very sick about the way I played today.”
Quarterbacks are expected to stand up and accept responsibility, but Jackson handled himself like a true pro. He said all the right things. He didn’t complain about his injury. He didn’t point out that some of his hiccups weren’t entirely his fault.
“He carried the weight of the team on his shoulders,” Baldwin says, “and for that a lot of the guys respected him.”
It’s a big reason why so many Seahawks were eager to get Jackson back when Buffalo released him in June. On the day Jackson was cut, Baldwin and his teammates found out on the practice field. As soon as they got into the locker room, they called Jackson and passed the phone around, pleading with him to come back. It’s a reason why general manager John Schneider didn’t wait long to see if Jackson would return.
“It shows that when you’re one of our guys,” fullback Michael Robinson says, “you’re one of our guys.”
“I was really sad to see him go,” offensive lineman Russell Okung says, “but we’re so glad to have him back. He embodies everything that our team is.”
Jackson didn’t play in any games during his one year in Buffalo. He became expendable after the Bills signed Kevin Kolb and drafted E.J. Manuel. “Seattle sent me on a paid vacation,” Jackson said jokingly.
The question now is, can he play well enough to be an adequate backup? One of the biggest things he has going for him is his familiarity with not only teammates but the system. He knows the terminology. He knows the routes. There are a few new wrinkles here and there, but much is the same.
On his first day back, after not playing football in a while, Jackson was comfortable enough to run the Seahawks’ two-minute drill.
“You can’t get a guy in that situation who could do that very often,” Carroll says.
Jackson will still be judged by what he does on the field. He is a career 59 percent passer who has thrown only three more touchdowns than interceptions. Can he lead Seattle’s offense? Can he put up points? If he shows he can do those things, it doesn’t hurt that he carries weight in the locker room.
“If he can’t go, it’s because he’s really hurt,” says Antonio Bradford, a college teammate at Alabama State. “I’ve seen him take some hits and licks. And I’ve done seen him deliver them, too. He’s a tough guy. A hard-nosed football player.”
And a gutsy one, too.
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org