EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) -Darrell Bevell often likes to say that a quarterback shows the most improvement between his first year of playing and his second.
If the Minnesota Vikings are going to fulfill their expectations of contending for the NFC North title and making a deep run in the playoffs, they need their offensive coordinator to be right about Tarvaris Jackson.
The former second-round draft pick out of Division I-AA Alabama State is entering his third year in the Vikings' offense, and his second as starting quarterback. Bevell said the difference is noticeable.
``I think he's better in every area from this time last year to where he is now,'' Bevell said Saturday at the team's minicamp. ``He's made great improvements, and that's a credit to him and how hard he's wanted to work to get better.''
As busy as Jackson has been this offseason with his workouts and film study, the Vikings' front office was even busier in the free agent market. Owner Zygi Wilf spent millions to shore up some of the major weaknesses from a team that finished 8-8 last season.
Game-breaking receiver? Bernard Berrian.
Safety with range? Madieu Williams.
Punishing fullback? Thomas Tapeh.
Pass-rushing defensive end? Jared Allen.
Once all the checks were written, there seemingly was one question left to resolve: Is Jackson, who turned 25 just before April's draft and has 14 career starts under his belt, ready to lead this veteran team?
Even with an 8-4 record as the starter last year, Jackson knows the doubters are out there.
``People are going to say what they want to say. It's their job to analyze things and to give their opinion of our team,'' Jackson said. ``My job is to go out there and prove them wrong. That's how I look at it. It's just extra motivation. That's all it is. Things like that kind of help me out, get me over the top.''
It's difficult to gauge Jackson's progress in the offense during these unpadded minicamps, but teammates say they see a more confident, comfortable quarterback.
Receiver Bobby Wade watched Jackson struggle with the job early, miss some time to injury and show improvement as last season drew to a close.
``He kind of had a taste of what it's going to be like in a career for a quarterback to get knocked down and have to get back up, have to still find a way to win games, find a way to manage games and lead a team,'' Wade said. ``It's the hardest position on the field, but you can definitely see his confidence in his ability and also the confidence that the team shows him.''
Jackson threw for 1,911 yards, nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions and completed 58.2 percent of his passes last year. Those numbers are expected to be much better in his second full season as a starter and with the addition of Berrian and the continued presence of Adrian Peterson.
But more than numbers, the Vikings need Jackson to assume the leadership role that comes with playing the marquee position in sports. Bevell said he had to prod Jackson about that at times last season, but can see a difference this time around.
``I don't even have to talk to him about that. I can see he's more confident,'' Bevell said. ``He has a little bit of a swagger to him. He has a good command of stepping into the huddle, and those are the things we like.''
Gus Frerotte signed in the offseason to be a veteran mentor to Jackson, his second tour with the Vikings after serving as Daunte Culpepper's backup in 2003-04.
``I can see it. There's no hesitation when he calls plays,'' Frerotte said. ``He's very confident with himself and how he's handling himself in the huddle and with the other players. That's really good to see. That's all about being a leader and being a quarterback.''
After the Vikings wrapped up the second of two practices on Saturday, Jackson said he has been working on his demeanor in the huddle to show his teammates he is ready for the responsibility.
``It's better for your teammates to be able to see you in the huddle confident instead of being a wide-eyed rookie and you may not know what to do and not know how to call a play,'' Jackson said. ``Now when you know what's going on, especially when you can be consistent out there, you're an easy one to listen to.''

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