At the beginning of the season, the Vikings faced an ugly conundrum. The problem was how the team could craft a three-deep quarterback rotation from Brad Johnson, rookie Tarvaris Jackson, and two quarterbacks whom nobody any longer believed capable of performing in the NFL. After considering retaining only two quarterbacks, with Jackson as the backup--an unthinkable move even in the world that is that of Vikings' head coach Brad Childress--the Vikings made their decision. Out were J.T. O'Sullivan and Mike McMahon, in was Brookes Bollinger as backup to starter Brad Johnson.
At the time, the decision to sign Bollinger looked savvy given the dearth of anywhere near proven quarterbacking talent on the free-agent market. As the season began I wrote:
"For all intents and purposes, the Vikings signed Bollinger to take the place of Mike McMahon and J.T. O'Sullivan. During his unremarkable run in the NFL, McMahon has posted some fairly jaundiced numbers, including a 44.5% career completion percentage, a 55.1 career passer rating, and 15 TDs to 21 INTs.
O'Sullivan's stats look gaudy in comparison but only because O'Sullivan has no career stats. That's because, in five NFL seasons, O'Sullivan has yet to throw a single regular- or post-season pass.
Bollinger easily bests both quarterbacks in these categories with 2005 numbers, alone, including 1558 yards passing with a 56.4% completion percentage, a 72.9 passer rating, and 7 TDs to 6 INTs. But, even without the benefit of competing against McMahon and O'Sullivan, Bollinger's numbers look pretty good.
Bollinger is not Elway reincarnated, but he is much more palatable as a 26-year-old backup than are McMahon or O'Sullivan. And that makes his signing, serrindipitous or not, a solid one."
The theory, of course, was that Bollinger would prove capable if Johnson ever became injured. Johnson's relative health has meant that Bollinger has yet to play for the Vikings. But, with Johnson's poor play now the equivalent of playing with an injured quarterback, the time has arrived to test Bollinger's worth to the team.
Bollinger brings two things to the Vikings that neither Johnson nor Jackson can match at this point in their respective careers. Compared to Johnson, Bollinger is a gazelle, able to evade 400 pound linemen the way a 38-year-old Johnson once merely dreamed he could.
And while Bollinger does not possess the speed of the clearly quicker and faster Jackson, he has demonstrated an ability to pass with accuracy in the NFL. Jackson has yet to do that on a consistent basis even in practice, still showing too late of a release and not yet even at the stage of over-compensating by releasing too early. Arm strength is no problem for Jackson, but accuracy is not currently a strength. And with the Vikings' modest receiving corps, that makes the somewhat experienced Bollinger the better fit at this point of the season.
With Bollinger under center, the Vikings would have the luxury of rolling out the quarterback and even sticking with Childress' bizarre fixation with the no shotgun offense. Even a glimmer of foot speed would make the Vikings' offensive line look considerably better, much the way a hint of quarterback mobility would put pressure on opposing teams to play the pass equal to the run.
Jackson, meanwhile, is at least one more full season from being NFL ready. And for Vikings' fans who believe that inserting Jackson now will only facilitate his NFL progression, there are ominous graveyards across the NFL to suggest otherwise. For every Peyton Manning there are players such as Ryan Leaf, Kyle Orton, Cade McKnown, Alex Smith, and even Eli Manning. And consider, as well, that with veterans at several key positions, the Vikings are not exactly in a position to begin re-building around an inexperienced, former I-AA quarterback.
For Childress and this version of the Minnesota Vikings, any extant window of opportunity is fast closing and a change at quarterback, if one is to be made, calls for at least modest experience at the position. If, by this time next year, that solution fails, more wholesale rebuilding likely will be in order. And Vikings' fans will then have the uneviable experience of looking forward to having yet another expansion team win the Super Bowl before they take home the Lombardi Trophy.
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