A fresh start: Tarvaris Jackson
Tarvaris Jackson made a good first impression, saying the right things about joining the Seahawks, citing the great opportunity ahead and the benefits of learning from those things in the past.
He’s a better person and quarterback for having gone through his experience in five seasons in Minnesota, he said. As for Seattle, well, he’s all about competing and being part of a team.
For greater depth about him is best supplied by others, by those who can provide an idea of just who is this Tarvaris Fox Jackson III who takes over the Seahawks’ offense tonight in the first exhibition game at San Diego.
Reggie Barlow, who had an eight-year NFL career and subsequent coaching positions at Alabama State, preceded Jackson through the Ridgecrest neighborhood in West Montgomery, Ala., and Sidney Lanier High School.
While he was off in the NFL, Barlow began hearing from old friends in Montgomery about a junior high kid named Tarvaris Jackson. “He is the absolute truth,” he was told.
Barlow said Ridgecrest was a neighborhood with challenges, but Jackson developed the straight and strong character of his mother, Sanque, who worked at a Montgomery car factory.
“She’s a very, very strong person, and his personality is definitely from her,” Barlow said. “She’s athletic, too; he got that competitive mentality from her.”
Seahawks receiver Ben Obomanu experienced Jackson’s early physical skills firsthand. The Sidney Lanier Poets were rivals of Obomanu’s Selma High. And while Lanier’s nickname (after the ill-fated Reconstruction poet) did not inspire much fear, the team’s strong-armed quarterback did.
“The funniest thing is I played DB, too, and I had a couple interceptions off him,” Obomanu said. “Our coaches said that Tarvaris had such a strong arm that his receivers couldn’t always catch it and it would bounce off their chests. So coaches told us to wait for the ricochet.”
Obomanu reluctantly admitted that the Poets beat his Selma Saints most of the time, and Jackson “could do everything; he was the best athlete on the field.”
Barlow, now head coach at Alabama State, said he likes to kid Jackson that he was only the second-best quarterback to play for the Poets, after Pro Football Hall of Famer Bart Starr led the team in the 1950s.
Jackson was such a versatile athlete that he was recruited by Alabama and Auburn as a potential outside linebacker. Arkansas and LSU sought him as a quarterback. But when Jackson arrived at Arkansas, Matt Jones was named the starter, and after seeing little chance of playing after his freshman year, Jackson transferred back home to Alabama State in Montgomery.
Barlow returned to Alabama State as quarterbacks coach a year later and saw that Jackson “had all the fundamentals,” having learned a great deal from former Clemson quarterback Richard Moncrief, Jackson’s coach at Lanier.
“I mostly worked on him with his mental approach,” Barlow said. “And he really grew from it.”
Barlow, who had played with veteran quarterbacks Brad Johnson, Mark Brunell and Rich Gannon in the NFL, recognized Jackson’s skills. With Barlow’s help, Jackson refined his game well enough to throw 29 touchdowns with only five interceptions during his senior season at Alabama State.
“One game his senior year against Southern University in Mobile (Ala.), the ball was on the right hash and he threw a comeback route to the other sideline, and (he put it on a rope),” Barlow remembered. “He (had) read the coverage so he knew it was going to be the comeback and he had the arm strength to make that pass. That told me he had what it takes.”
Barlow recalls Jackson just taking over that game, doing whatever it took.
“He had about a 70-yard touchdown run when he just decided he had to make the plays,” Barlow said.
Having played against NCAA Division I-AA competition (now known as the Football Championship Subdivision), Jackson was considered a possible low-round NFL draft pick.
But Obomanu was there the day Jackson’s stock took off.
“Tarvaris came in and threw at my pro day,” Obomanu said. “(Auburn) didn’t have a senior quarterback to throw for us (in front of scouts), so he came over. He was firing bullets and throwing these great deep balls and attracting all the attention.
“I always tease him that he’s the reason I got drafted in the seventh round while he ends up getting taken in the second.”
For the first several seasons in Minnesota, Jackson went through a young quarterback’s typical growing pains, with injuries and inconsistency. The past two seasons, that career trajectory was affected by Brett Favre’s serial retirement/comeback act.
“I’ve been friends with him for four years, and during that time, he’s shown me his real character,” said new Seahawks receiver Sidney Rice, another free-agent acquisition from Minnesota.
“He’s such a great guy. He showed me a lot. He sat back, embraced the opportunity to learn from one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. He didn’t complain about it. He came out every day and did what he was supposed to do.”
But Jackson’s connection with the Minnesota fans did not appear to take root. Charley Waters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press interviewed Jackson’s mother at one point.
“Tarvaris is a very shy person,” she said. “He’s real low key and doesn’t let a whole lot of stuff bother him. People don’t understand that he’s kind of quiet anyway.”
But his athleticism was so obvious that it had to tease fans.
Writer Steve Marsh, in a feature article for Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, tapped the perspective of Tom Shaw, a former New England strength coach who worked with Jackson at a conditioning camp.
“Nobody is as strong as he is (relative to NFL quarterbacks),” Shaw said of Jackson. “He benched 405 four times the other day. He ran (the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds).
Athletically, the kid’s a freak of nature.”
Jackson ended up starting 20 games for the Vikings, finishing with 24 touchdowns and 21 interceptions for a passer rating of 86.0. But this spring, the Vikings did not tender an offer and he was allowed to leave via free agency.
Once Seahawks general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll decided against retaining veteran Matt Hasselbeck, they studied options – including taking counsel on Jackson from new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who had coordinated the Vikings and Jackson.
“Obviously, we knew firsthand from Darrell
his leadership skills, his football intelligence, his swagger and all that,” said Schneider, who said he watched Jackson’s early career “ups and downs” when he was in the front office of divisional rival Green Bay.
“A lot of quarterbacks struggle early on,” Schneider said. “When you watch him, you will see the arm strength and the foot quickness and the movement skills
he’s a very intriguing prospect.”
Schneider said he expected Jackson to “walk into the locker room and get respect from the players right away.”
Barlow said Jackson has already talked to him about establishing a charitable foundation in Seattle.
“He’s a giving guy who likes to help others,” Barlow said. “He’s someone who knows the importance of giving back to others in the community.”
Rice said he thought it wouldn’t take long for the Seahawks to be won over by Jackson’s dedication.
Obomanu sees Jackson as benefitting from his experience in Minnesota.
“I’m sure he wants to make a name for himself; you always want to be a starter, all of us do,” Obomanu said. “He realizes this is his opportunity. You can see he’s got all the want-to and the extra motivation; he’s somebody who realizes this is a great chance.”
For Jackson, and the Seahawks, it starts tonight.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440