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Continued: Offseason investment makes move more urgent

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: September 18, 2008 - 12:17 PM

Gus Frerotte has been around the NFL so long that he started in a tie game. This occurred on Nov. 23, 1997, when the New York Giants and Frerotte's Washington Redskins wound up 7-7 after overtime.

There has been only one tie in the NFL since then -- 34-all with Atlanta and Pittsburgh in November 2002.

Frerotte's involvement in the 7-7 tie was notorious. The quarterback had to leave the game after celebrating his team's lone touchdown by head butting a padded wall near the end zone.

A week later, Frerotte made his 30th consecutive start and suffered a broken hip. On his return the next season, he found himself with a label that can be impossible to shake:

Backup quarterback.

This can make you an extremely popular figure with a team's fan base, although it doesn't soothe the competitive urge or put eight digits in front of the decimal point in a bank account.

It would be eight years after the head butt and hip injury before Frerotte was next anointed The Starting Quarterback entering a season. This was 2005 in Miami, and Gus was there because he had gained Scott Linehan's admiration.

Linehan was the offensive coordinator in Minnesota in 2002-04, and Frerotte was the backup to Daunte Culpepper in the final two seasons. Linehan went to Miami as offensive coordinator and convinced his new boss, Nick Saban, to bring in Frerotte to play quarterback.

Miami went 9-6 with Frerotte as the starter (9-7 overall), which looks pretty good when you consider the Dolphins were 7-25 in the two seasons that followed.

All Frerotte's winning record in Miami earned him was two more years as a backup in St. Louis, where Linehan was hired as a head coach in 2006. Linehan is 0-2 this season, and Rams ownership this week publicly threatened to fire him.

This week's pressures from above on Vikings coach Brad Childress were not expressed publicly, but you would have to be very naive to believe what we saw Wednesday was anything less than a response to ownership's unhappiness with an 0-2 start in this season of high expectations -- and high expenses.

The response came with Childress' announcement at his midweek news conference that Frerotte will start Sunday against Carolina and for as long as he stays healthy this season. Tarvaris Jackson goes back to the learning mode of his rookie year in 2006.

Frerotte was 26 and had made 44 starts in four seasons when he went on injured reserve with that broken hip in December '97 and basically became a career backup. Jackson is 25, has made 16 starts in three seasons and could be looking at the same fate.

What was verified with Wednesday's announcement was something that has been suspected all along:

All the minicamps and OTAs and 7-on-7 drills aren't worth the pea in a coach's whistle when it comes to being certain that a young man with intriguing skills can function as an NFL quarterback.

The public was offered constant assurance from Childress that Jackson was making impressive progress in those months of non-game situations. He looked competent while throwing a total of 22 passes during the first two exhibitions.

Clearly, that wasn't enough work for a quarterback still in the novice stage of development. The Vikings chose to baby his minor knee injury rather than give him needed work in the final exhibition, then were surprised that he seemed in a daze at the speed of the game in narrow losses to Green Bay and Indianapolis.

Optimism based on what coaches see from a quarterback in April, May and June is worthless -- and Jackson should be remembered as Example A of this truth.

It also should be pointed out that Childress' sudden change at quarterback screams of ownership unrest. The head coach's previous policy had been to keep secrets on all personnel moves as long as possible.

Suddenly, with a blackout looming for Sunday's home game with Carolina, Childress decides to make a Wednesday announcement that he's going with Frerotte, the people's choice from five years ago, and will dump Jackson, the people's target last Sunday.

I smell a Zygi in this decision.

Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM- 1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. preusse@startribune.com

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