Ponder drives to Minnesota, eager to settle with Vikings
By Dave Campbell, AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS -- Spending most of the summer in Florida still didn't quite prepare Christian Ponder for Monday's exhausting workout.
The Vikings' rookie quarterback joined a group of NFL players and hopefuls at the University of Minnesota on a hot, humid morning -- after a 22-hour drive to relocate his belongings and officially begin his pro career.
"This workout is kicking my butt. Eating all that fast food and everything is not a good deal. I'm sweating it out," Ponder said.
Yes, even a native of Texas who played college football at Florida State can feel uncomfortable in the Minnesota climate, at least on a day when the temperature reached the upper 90s and the air is milkshake-thick.
"It's unbelievable. It feels like Florida. Probably a little hotter than Florida, but I guess it's good to get us in shape, getting us ready for the season," Ponder said in an interview after the session with a handful of reporters.
Ponder's original plan was to spend a little time on the field and then the rest of the morning with a real estate agent to hunt for a home near the Vikings' suburban headquarters in Eden Prairie.
But Arizona Cardinals star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, the organizer of the workouts, persuaded Ponder to stay for the entire workout. He ran passing and conditioning drills with some of his soon-to-be Vikings teammates and others, eagerly waiting for the NFL lockout to end.
Talks between the league and the players have been progressing toward a new deal, but it's not done yet. That's put Ponder and the thousands of other players in a strange spot, unable to work out with their teams, use the weightlifting facilities or talk to their coaches.
Fortunately for Ponder, who was taken with the 12th pick in the draft by the quarterback-hungry Vikings, he picked up a playbook in April when he was allowed to make a brief visit with his new team.
"Everyone is being optimistic about it right now," Ponder said. "One can only hope."
The Vikings are scheduled to report to training camp on July 31, assuming the NFL is back in business by then. The scramble to sign first-round draft picks will be even more chaotic than usual, whenever negotiations are allowed to start, with veteran free agency also still among the many items on the league to-do list before the 2011 season can start.
But Ponder said he didn't think it would take him long to get a deal because of the rookie salary scale that is expected to be a part of the new agreement, designed by both sides to keep first-round bonuses from soaring higher than they already have.
"It will be done quickly and I want to be ready to go and get in as soon as possible," Ponder said, adding: "My goal is always to get this second contract anyway. That's when you make the most money."