Johnson or Jackson? Childress tries running Viking quarterback sneak

  • Article by: KEVIN SEIFERT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 6, 2006 - 9:32 PM

The Vikings have attempted not to tip their hand about Sunday's starter, but the secret has sprung some leaks. The likely verdict: no change.

One of the world's great mysteries will be solved in four days. No, we won't unearth the builders of Stonehenge. Jimmy Hoffa's body won't turn up. We won't learn if Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, and we might not find out if Jessica Simpson has undergone plastic surgery.

But a few minutes after noon Sunday, we will discover whom the Vikings will start at quarterback against Detroit. (Here's a hint: It's the same guy they've used for the first 12 games of the season.)

Despite an amusing attempt at subterfuge from coach Brad Childress, there were the strongest indications Wednesday that incumbent Brad Johnson will retain his job for at least one more week. Childress twice claimed in interviews that he had not decided on a starter, but he finally acknowledged he "competitively" wanted that player's identity kept secret until kickoff.

Rookie Tarvaris Jackson, however, inadvertently revealed a decision that also was confirmed elsewhere.

"Brad is the starting quarterback and I'm doing like I do every week," Jackson said. "Trying to get ready for the game like I'm the starter and just trying to get better each day."

Jackson is expected to serve as the No. 2 quarterback Sunday while backup Brooks Bollinger rehabilitates a separated left shoulder. Bollinger might have supplanted Johnson if he were healthy, but instead Bollinger is unable to lift his arm and was listed as doubtful on the Vikings injury report.

That ailment left Childress to choose between Johnson, who threw four interceptions last Sunday in the Vikings' 23-13 loss to Chicago, and Jackson, who had not taken a regular-season practice snap with the Vikings offense before Wednesday.

Childress said he considered using a rotation of Johnson and Jackson but admitted "that's probably not where I'm at at this point." He said the players' divergent styles would add uncertainty to the Lions' preparations this week.

"They have to prepare differently for different guys," Childress said. "Different guys play the game different ways."

Lions coach Rod Marinelli seemed unmoved.

"When you prepare, you prepare," he said. "It doesn't matter if a certain back is up, a certain quarterback is up, you still prepare [the same]. ... It's what you do. That's the issue."

The charade put Johnson, a 15-year veteran, in the awkward spot of preparing for a game without the public support of his coach. Johnson spoke carefully Wednesday and would not answer a direct question about whether he was the starter. But Johnson made clear his routine was not changing this week.

"I'm just preparing like I always have," Johnson said. "I don't see any difference. Coaches' decisions are coaches' decisions. My thought and work haven't changed a bit."

Johnson has committed 18 turnovers this season, and Childress reiterated that "I expect to get the decision-making better.

"The decision-making goes a long way," he added. "[The quarterback] is a guy that touches the ball. He has to use discretion. Sometimes things break down. Sometimes you have to live to play another down."

Johnson might not be guaranteed a start beyond Sunday's game, as Childress refused to say whether his decision will apply for the remainder of the season. "I wish I was clairvoyant," he said.

That sentiment will give hope to the legion of Vikings fans who want to see more of Jackson, a local favorite during training camp and the preseason. Because of the Bollinger injury, Jackson will get practice time with the first and second teams and could become a factor if the Vikings are eliminated from playoff contention.

Jackson seemed hesitant earlier this week when asked if he was ready to start, but Childress said he will not count that uncertainty against him.


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