NFL

Jackson stepping up to lead new team

Brian Billick says the Seahawks must develop consistent team personality
Brian Billick says the Seahawks must develop consistent team personality
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Nancy Gay

Nancy Gay is the Senior NFL Editor at FOXSports.com. She has been covering the NFL and other major sports for more than two decades. The first female member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee, Nancy also is an Associated Press All-Pro selector. She has covered 20 Super Bowls. Follow her on Twitter @nancygay.

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RENTON, Wash.

Once Tarvaris Jackson determined he was leaving his wasted NFL potential behind in Minnesota to start fresh in the Great Northwest, the guy best known as Brett Favre's backup embarked on a not-so-subtle campaign to get one of his favorite targets to join him in Seattle.

The phone calls, the texts — it was all about the opportunity. Better still, the familiarity.

Would Sidney Rice bite, too?

Darrell Bevell, the former Vikings offensive coordinator, now was scripting the Seattle Seahawks' playbook for head coach Pete Carroll. This was a custom-built landing spot for Jackson, 28, a free agent who signed a two-year, $8 million deal with the Seahawks to succeed a local icon, Matt Hasselbeck.

But he didn't want to enjoy the spoils alone.

"Hey, I was his friend. So I told (Rice), 'I'll let you handle your free-agent business however you want to handle it, but I'd be a fool if I didn't try to get you up here with me, because this is a great situation up here,'" said Jackson, the erstwhile Vikings quarterback whose starting career was mowed down in Minnesota the past two seasons by the will-he-or-won't-he preseason whims of Favre. "After that, I just kept texting him a little, like this:

"How's it going? ... How's it going?"

So, how was it going?

"Actually, it was more like, 'What's the latest? ... What's the latest?'" Rice recalled with a huge laugh. "That's the line he used, probably about 20 times. He was checking in every few hours with me right after he did his deal. He was pretty anxious and excited at the same time.

"We were familiar with each other, we both know Coach Bev's playbook and it just seemed like a perfect fit."

It was all coming together, just as the Seahawks envisioned it would.

Carroll, it seems, was crafting an interesting master plan to overcome the lockout-truncated NFL offseason.

He would encourage his proven offensive coaching staff — Bevell from Minnesota and line coach Tom Cable, the former Raiders head coach — to bring in free agents they knew, players they trusted who could master their schemes quickly and assume leadership roles immediately.

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"We wanted to get the guys that we knew were talented, No. 1," Bevell said. "They had to be good people and fit into our program here quickly. Sidney and Tarvaris are definitely those guys.

"And it particularly helps that, since we couldn't re-sign Hasselbeck, in a new system with this very, very short timeframe we have, there's nothing better than having a guy like Tarvaris in here who's going to be calling it and running it, that already knows it."

The signings of familiar faces came quickly.

— On July 30, three days after Jackson was onboard, Carroll stamped Jackson his starter over Charlie Whitehurst — an awkward situation indeed. Newly signed free agents such as Jackson couldn't take snaps until Aug. 4, leaving Whitehurst in a confidence-shaking state of limbo.

"It's different for him here than it's been for him in the past, and we'll see how far Tarvaris can take it — he's so poised, so talented and just so smart," said Carroll, who merely wanted Jackson to have ownership of the team immediately.

Why no quarterback competition?

"This was by design. I don't know that everyone sees it that way — it doesn't matter," Carroll said without apology. "But we feel very good about it."

— Won over by his man T-Jack and the comfort level with Bevell, Rice agreed to a five-year, $41 million contract with $18 million guaranteed hours after Jackson joined the Seahawks.

Rice's admiration for how Jackson dealt with two years of Favre's preseason waffling helped seal the deal.

"I never let that whole thing get to me: the distraction of everything with Brett," Rice said. "But sitting back and watching Tarvaris and the way he handled the situation, I'll applaud him every chance I get. It showed me a lot about his true character.

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"He never complained about the situation. He was always on time for the meetings, stepping in, helping everyone. He'll do that here in Seattle, too, because that's the kind of player he is."

— Cable, eager to implement his zone-blocking scheme to bolster the Seattle rushing attack, lured left guard Robert Gallery, 31, from Oakland with a three-year contract. Instantly, Gallery became the leader of a young line whose only returning starter is second-year left tackle Russell Okung.

"I'm an old guy here," Gallery said of Carroll's youngish roster, which includes only 14 players from the team he inherited from Jim Mora in 2010. "But I am enjoying the change, and playing in Cable's scheme."

— Cable, Gallery and Bevell combined forces to steal fifth-year tight end Zach Miller from the Raiders on Aug. 2, jumping in with a five-year, $34 million deal with $17 million guaranteed.

"I honestly thought I would be back with the Raiders, and I was waiting for them to call me," said Miller, who led Oakland in receptions (60), receiving yards (685) and receiving touchdowns (five) in 2010. "But this is an incredible opportunity.

"Tarvaris has a cannon of an arm, and he's so familiar with the offense already; it's such an advantage to him. It's what he knows. And he talks to the receivers, tells us, 'Get your head around quicker,' things like that. I think he's going to be really great for us and move the offense."

After a few days together in padded practices at the Seahawks' gorgeous practice facility in Renton, just south of Seattle, Jackson looked sharp and in command. His pinpoint passes and quick release drew applause from the crowds at open practice sessions.

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Thursday night in the Seahawks' preseason opener at San Diego, Seattle's anointed starter experienced some familiar hiccups.

With his top receivers Mike Williams (toe) and Rice (shoulder) on the sidelines nursing early camp aches and pains, Jackson's protection was dinged immediately. Okung injured his left ankle in a non-contact block on the opening drive and was carted off the field. X-rays on the ankle were negative.

Forced to improvise, Jackson did some good things — he used his feet on third-and-3 to scramble and pick up a first down on Seattle's second drive, showcasing mobility Hasselbeck had lost as his body aged.

Then again, Jackson also got in trouble on third-and-23 later in the drive. He had plenty of time in the pocket to throw, but solid Chargers coverage in the secondary resulted in a sack.

After containing his emotions and maintaining his focus the past three seasons while being supplanted in Minnesota by both Gus Frerotte and Favre, an exhibition game during which Jackson clearly was outshined by Whitehurst and rookie Josh Portis in a 24-17 Seahawks victory isn't likely to ruin what he has worked so patiently to get:

A legitimate chance.

"The past two years, it put it all in perspective for me. I've been a background leader. I'd pull people to the side, but it was to tell them what Brett wanted and what Coach Bev wanted with the offense," Jackson said. "I'll rise to the occasion. I'm grateful for this now. I'm going to be the leader and playmaker they expect me to be."

Tagged: Titans, Raiders, Vikings, Seahawks, Brett Favre, Matt Hasselbeck, Robert Gallery, Tarvaris Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst, Sidney Rice

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