<
>

Daily mailbag: Revisiting backup QBs

This weekend will be so fluid from a news and personnel perspective that we're going to skip the formal weekend mailbag. Most of your questions pertained to roster movement, anyway. We addressed some of them late in the week, will continue to monitor the situation throughout Saturday, and will await official announcements from each NFC North team by the early evening.

But I do think now is a good time to address a follow-up question from Brett of Lima, Ohio:

A number of weeks back you ranked all the backup quarterbacks in the division. Now that training camp is over, can you give another review of the second-stringers, including how you thought you did in your initial review? Also how you would feel the teams would fare if their starter gets knocked out. Thanks.

First things first: Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. wrote the post you referred to while I was blissfully away on summer vacation. If you recall, Williamson wrote that he was "not a believer" in any of the NFC North's backup quarterbacks, but ranked the Minnesota Vikings' Tarvaris Jackson as the best of the group.

No matter who wrote the post, it's particularly relevant now after Jackson's final preseason performance left new doubts about his ability to function in the Vikings' offense. He finished the preseason with a 53.0 passer rating, completing 12 of 26 passes for 60 yards. Not every incompletion was his fault, of course, but on the whole, Jackson appeared no different than the quarterback the Vikings benched two years ago: Athletic, inaccurate and too easily flustered.

My nomination for the division's best backup, both then and now, is Shaun Hill of the Detroit Lions. That's no revisionist cop-out. Regular readers of this blog would recognize my admiration for Hill and, shall we say, uncertainty about Jackson.

I think Hill is everything you would want in a No. 2 quarterback, as long as you recognize those patterns can include someone you wouldn't necessarily want starting 16 games for you. Entering his ninth year, Hill is experienced and has a 10-6 record as an NFL starter. He's in his fourth season in offensive coordinator Scott Linehan's system -- the first three were in Minnesota from 2002-04 -- and is smart and unassuming with a realistic view of his place in the NFL.

Meanwhile, as Lisa of West Hartford, Conn., wrote in a note to the mailbag, "if Tarvaris Jackson were a rookie draftee this year, there would be no question he would be cut." That sentiment explains precisely why Jackson's seemingly guaranteed status seems so out of place. He didn't play well enough to make the team as a rookie who presumably has potential. So in his fifth season, having never demonstrated consistency at any point in his career, how is Jackson the No. 2 quarterback for a team with Super Bowl aspirations?

I suppose anything could change at any minute, but as of Saturday morning Jackson was still the Vikings' No. 2 quarterback behind starter Brett Favre. Friday night's trade of veteran Sage Rosenfels seemed to confirm that scenario; at this point, the only other quarterback on the roster is rookie Joe Webb.

Coach Brad Childress said last week that he's seen enough from Jackson in practice settings to solidify his job. But that's always been the hook with Jackson: The 60-yard ropes he throws in practice haven't translated to success in games, which should be the overwhelmingly most important factor.

Of course, some backups haven't had much opportunity to play and are more difficult to get a feel for. Most notably, that goes for Packers backup Matt Flynn. I want to say that after two full years in the Packers' system, Flynn should be comfortable in a short-term starting situation. But no one can know for sure.

The same was true earlier this summer about the Bears' Caleb Hanie, but his preseason shoulder injury forced the team to turn to veteran Todd Collins. Although he has been a good backup for many years, I'm guessing there is a reason Collins was available at the end of August. I would take Hill over him at this point.

As is the case in most NFL cities, each NFC North team would be diminished if they were forced to turn to their backup. But I see Hill, Collins and Flynn -- in that order -- as capable of running their offenses effectively for short periods of time.