Vikings confident Frerotte can run team when needed

EDEN PRAIRIE -- Gus Frerotte was talking about his 15-year career as an NFL quarterback, when some wise guy interrupted to tease him about the gray in his once-black hair.

EDEN PRAIRIE -- Gus Frerotte was talking about his 15-year career as an NFL quarterback, when some wise guy interrupted to tease him about the gray in his once-black hair.

"It comes with age, and kids, and four dogs," Frerotte said, flashing a sly smile and barely flinching.

That's the type of cool and collected demeanor necessary for a role as the veteran backup -- two words linked as frequently in pro football as "ensuing kickoff" and "first down." The call to lead the offense can come at any second, as it did Saturday night when Minnesota starter Tarvaris Jackson left the exhibition game at Baltimore with a sprained knee.

"You have to be ready to go in, and you have to play like you've been working with the first team all year," Frerotte said.

The Vikings have not publicly ruled out Jackson this weekend against Pittsburgh, but to keep him healthy for the games that count it's unlikely he'll participate much -- if at all -- until the season opener at Green Bay on Sept. 8.


Thus, they have Gus.

"We give him a hard time for his age, but when you're on the field that ball definitely has a young-guy pop," said receiver Martin Nance, who caught a 32-yard pass from Frerotte last weekend.

A pure pocket thrower, Frerotte has long had one of the strongest arms in the league -- a significant reason why he's still in it.

"That's the thing that gets your attention when you're first looking at him last winter," coach Brad Childress said. "That's the first place you always go before the feet or anything like that. You say, 'Does he still have an arm? Can he still make all the throws?' What you see him do is throw from a lot of different platforms, whether it's straight over the top or three-quarters or submarine. I kid him about throwing it submarine-style sometimes."

Frerotte credited Cam Cameron, his quarterbacks coach during his first three years in the NFL with Washington, for teaching him how to improvise and learn how to get rid of the ball in all kinds of situations.

"I think it's just part of my mechanics now, being able to make throws from different angles," Frerotte said.

The genial old guy in the locker room is often miscast as simply happy to be here. Humility is a necessity, but survival in the league doesn't happen without self-confidence. Frerotte was asked how many other quarterbacks in the league he watches and realizes have strength he no longer has.

"I don't want to sound cocky, but there's not many," Frerotte said, adding: "I've seen guys do 10,000 more reps than I have and done band work and everything, but I can still come out and throw the ball so it's just something that I was given. It's like a guy being able to jump through the roof: It's just a God-given ability."


Adjusting to new systems -- this is the first time he's run a West Coast offense since Denver's in 2000 and 2001 -- and new coaches and teammates are perhaps the greatest challenge for the 37-year-old who changed employers this year for the seventh time in his career.

He's accustomed to moving, though, which has kept him from becoming too comfortable with a particular coach, receiver or scheme. Scott Linehan, his offensive coordinator in Minnesota in 2003 and 2004, Miami in 2005, and then head coach in St. Louis in 2006 and 2007, is probably the authoritative voice he's heard the most.

"It's been a really great career and really a lot of fun," Frerotte said. "It's been hard at times and sometimes you feel it's not always fair, and you've just got to move on from that. One good thing I have is a great family and a good support system. It really helps me get through anything that could go wrong, if you get cut or anything like that. It makes you realize it's still a business. ... Just thank God I'm 37 and still being able to do what I love to do. I have a lot of friends in the NFL who haven't been as lucky."

Frerotte has outlasted every player taken in the 1994 draft, according to the Vikings, since he joined the Redskins out of Tulsa University. He's been a starter for about a third of his career, a second-stringer for the rest.

That status can change quickly, as it did during his first stint in Minnesota in 2003 when Daunte Culpepper injured his back and missed 2½ games. The Vikings never lost that season with Frerotte, who set the franchise single-game record for passer rating (157.2) with four touchdowns against San Francisco and inspired several "In Gus We Trust" signs around town and in the Metrodome seats.

So once Jackson returns, his backup won't resign himself to holding the clipboard throughout the fall.

"You never know," Frerotte said. "It's a long year."

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