Add former Oakland and MVP quarterback Rich Gannon to the people at Winter Park who look for quarterback Tarvaris Jackson to have a great 2008 season.
"I'm excited. I got a chance to go out there a little bit, and I watched -- really, I wanted to look at Tarvaris and see where he has come in just the one short year -- and I got a chance to watch some film and sit down with [coach Brad] Childress and really look at him, and talk about him, and evaluate him," said Gannon.
"I think he's made great strides. I think he's a very athletic guy, very gifted, and the big thing for him this year is just consistency."
Gannon, who also played for the Vikings, Redskins and Chiefs, said that Jackson's goal for this season is to stay healthy.
"He's got to play 16 games, he only finished 12 games a year ago, he needs to play 16 games," Gannon said. "He needs to be more efficient and more consistent. And if he can do those two things -- with the running game they have, the offensive line, they've upgraded their receivers, they're going to be better defensively -- there's no reason why that team cannot win the NFC North."
Gannon added: "I say this, and I say this to Brad as well: The reality of the situation is you're competing against the Tom Bradys, the Brett Favres, the Peyton Mannings of the world, and those guys are a very elite group, and you don't get there overnight.
[Jackson] is not quite there, but there's also a group of quarterbacks in the bottom third that maybe shouldn't be starters. I think he's somewhere in the middle and, as I said to him, there's a small box of players that we're talking about that are in that elite group. You need to start gravitating towards that group, and it only comes through hard work, dedication, passion for the game. I think you need to become more vocal, more of a leader on the field and off the field with that football team, and that's hard to do when you're a young player."
Gannon's daughter Danielle has celiac disease, a condition which keeps her from digesting gluten, a component of cereal grains. Gannon is involved in the seventh annual walk/run for celiac disease on Saturday at Holy Family Catholic High School in Victoria. Registration starts at 8:30 a.m., followed by the walk/run at 10 a.m.Hope for Neshek
A year ago on May 29, Twins middle reliever Jesse Crain had surgery on his arm that put him out for the season. Along with the surgery, there naturally was some question whether he would make a comeback.
So when Pat Neshek suffered a serious arm injury last week that will put him out for the season and raised questions about his future, Crain offered him some good advice.
"When I talked to Neshek, I just told him to keep his head up, that's the main thing. Just come in here and be part of the team so you still feel like you're there," Crain said. "The way I looked at it, I was positive the whole time and I knew that pitchers go through injuries all the time and it's not anything different. So, just keep your head up and keep moving forward.
"Yeah, I'd definitely tried to encourage him, that's the biggest thing -- just saying I've been there before and I've been through all that. You've just got to focus and never think that you're done. I knew I was coming back, there was never a doubt in my mind that I wasn't, and I just tell him to know that, to know that he will be back."
Crain said he also did what he could to encourage pitcher Francisco Liriano, who is struggling to find his form after Tommy John surgery that sidelined him last year.
"I wish I could talk to him more, just tell him you've got to go out there and trust your stuff, because if he's throwing strikes with his fastball, he's going to get guys out," Crain said. "It's one of the things I would say to him. I mean, you've just got to realize that you might not be throwing as hard, but you're still a good pitcher."
Crain is 1-1 with a 4.63 ERA in 12 games through Wednesday.
"I think I'm back to where I was," he said. "I definitely don't think I'm weaker than I was. I can't complain about anything the way things have gone so far."Jottings
Avista Capital Partners, owners of the Star Tribune, might be talking about selling the land surrounding the newspaper offices to the Wilf family, but Lester Bagley, Vikings vice president, said that "the Wilfs aren't going to make any deal for any land until they get some support from Gov. Tim Pawlenty for a new stadium."
Longtime Gophers men's cross country coach Steve Plasencia said he is going to make a bid to succeed Phil Lundin as the Gophers' men's track coach. Lundin will be leaving to coach at St. Olaf. ... The Gophers have signed a contract to play at Syracuse in 2009 and will visit the Orange in 2012. This means that before the Gophers open their open-air football stadium in 2009, they will have played one game, in the Carrier Dome.
Toby Gardenhire, son of the Twins manager, is hitting an impressive .313 and was hitting as high as .333 since he was promoted to the Class AA New Britain farm club. ... Former Gophers fullback Justin Valentine has signed a free-agent contract with the Jets. Wide receiver Ernie Wheelwright has signed with the Ravens. Former Gophers linebacker Mike Sherels had a tryout with the Broncos, but they didn't sign him. ... If the Vikings didn't have five running backs on their roster, they might have signed ex-Gopher Amir Pinnix, who made a good impression in the free agent camp. ... Michigan is recruiting Breck wide receiver Bryce McNeal as hard as Notre Dame went after Cretin-Derham Hall wide receiver Michael Floyd. There are rumors that McNeal will commit to Michigan soon, but those close to him say they believe he might wait to see what kind of a season the Gophers have this fall.
WIN Magazine has rated the Gophers wrestling program's incoming recruiting class as the best in the nation. All six of the Gophers' early signees won a state championship. Ryland Geiger of Scappoose, Ore., and Mario Mason of Blairstown, N.J., won the national high school championship sponsored by the National High School Coaches Association, and Jake Deitchler of Anoka recently finished second place at the USA Wrestling Greco-Roman Nationals.
By finishing second, Deitchler has qualified for the Olympic trials. This spring, the Gophers have added three more recruits: Thane Antczak, Prairie Farm, Wis. (125 pounds); Zach Loppnow, Lake City, Minn. (heavyweight); and Wes Richard of Dillingham, Alaska (141).