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 MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -Tarvaris Jackson has heard the questions all summer long and all throughout training camp.
Are you ready to lead the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs?
Have you improved from your first season as a starting quarterback?
What about the doubters who say the Vikings are a quarterback away from being a contender in the NFC?
On Friday night, when the Vikings host the Seattle Seahawks in the preseason opener for both teams, Jackson will get his first chance to show just how far he's come from a wildly up-and-down 2007 season. And he's eager to do it.
``Yeah, definitely,'' Jackson said. ``Just going against a different jersey, different players, different coverages, different schemes, just try to test your mind a little bit.''
While everyone in Minnesota will be watching to see how Jackson runs the offense, Seattle's eyes will be on the center-quarterback exchange as well. Quarterback is the least of Seattle's worries heading into this season, with Matt Hasselbeck entrenched as one of the best in the NFC.
But Friday night will be the first game at center for Steve Vallos, a seventh-round pick last year who was a tackle at Wake Forest and a guard on Seattle's practice squad last season. Now, after starter Chris Spencer injured his back and backup Chris Gray abruptly retired, Vallos has been thrust into the most important role on the offensive line.
``It's been a year since I played a game and being the first one out there is a little nerve racking with Matt and stuff,'' Vallos said. ``Everyone I'm going out there with, they're all going to help me and I feel confident in that.''
Nothing figures to be easy for him. The Metrodome is one of the loudest stadiums in the league, and the crowd figures to be amped up for at least the first quarter when the starters are in.
And when Vallos puts his hand over the ball and gets ready to snap it, he'll have Pro Bowl defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams staring him right in the face, ready to mow him down to get to Hasselbeck.
``It's just an opportunity for me to show what I can do,'' Vallos said.
So is Hasselbeck a little nervous for his safety?
``It's a very tough challenge coming in and having to run with the (first team) all the time and now going against two of the best D-tackles in the game,'' Hasselbeck said. ``Two Pro Bowl guys from last year, that's a tough first game. It's a welcome. We realize it's a challenge and we're going to play as a team and help him out.''
With the Williams Wall in the middle, and new defensive end Jared Allen coming in hard from the outside, it's likely that Hasselbeck will only play a few series. Coach Mike Holmgren also wants to get a look at quarterback Charlie Frye, who started Cleveland's season-opener last year before getting traded to Seattle to make way for Derek Anderson.
Frye is currently the third quarterback on the depth chart, but Holmgren would like to see if he has enough command of the offense to assume the primary backup role. That would allow Holmgren to use current second-stringer Seneca Wallace as a kick returner and receiver to add another playmaking threat to the special teams and offense.
The Vikings don't have that luxury. Coach Brad Childress and the rest of the team has been singing Jackson's praises for three months, especially when speculation started to surface that they were entering the Brett Favre sweepstakes.
Jackson was pelted with Favre questions for the first two weeks of training camp. The whole saga ended mercifully late Wednesday night when the Packers traded Favre to the Jets, and now Jackson doesn't have to worry about fielding those questions anymore.
He's just concentrating on being a more consistent player after completing just 58 percent of his passes with 12 interceptions and nine touchdowns in 12 games last season.
``Things have been very productive. I feel like I've got a lot accomplished out here,'' Jackson said. ``I feel like we have, as a team, gotten better each day. We still have got a lot more improving to do and that is what we are trying to do each day and that is a good thing.''

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