Ponder eager to get his shot at starting job
By Jon Krawczynski, AP Sports Writer
MANKATO -- The student in Christian Ponder knows he is going to have to wait a little while before he assumes control of the Minnesota Vikings offense.
He knows this is Donovan McNabb's unit for now, and that the veteran's presence will likely be a big help to the rookie's development over the long term.
The competitor in Ponder wants the starting quarterback job. And he wants it right now.
The 12th overall pick out of Florida State has been getting plenty of repetitions in the first two days of Vikings training camp while McNabb watches and waits for the new league year to begin. He welcomed McNabb with open arms when he was acquired in a trade, but has hardly played the part of the deferential rookie early in camp.
"The guy deserves a starting job," Ponder said of McNabb, who was tabbed the starter the day the Vikings acquired him from Washington. "He's been in the league for a while. My mentality is to be able to go in and compete and try to get that job from him."
The plan in April was for Ponder to work with the team through the summer and prepare to be the starter in the Sept. 11 opener at San Diego. Coach Leslie Frazier's plan changed when the lockout wiped out the entire offseason program, so the Vikings made the move to bring McNabb in to stabilize the position and take the pressure off Ponder to play right away.
Ponder said he looks forward to picking McNabb's brain, finding out what has worked for him over the past 12 seasons and helped him earn six Pro Bowls. It's all with an aim to take that job from McNabb as quickly as possible.
"The biggest thing that I'm going to soak up from him is his preparation. How he handles being and NFL quarterback," Ponder said. "Obviously he's successful at doing something. I've just got to figure out what that is and then copy it and hopefully use it against him to win that starting job."
McNabb has seen this movie before. The Eagles drafted Kevin Kolb in the second round in 2007 as the team's quarterback of the future. But it was McNabb who remained the man for the next three seasons, until he was traded to Washington to give way to Kolb and Michael Vick.
McNabb won't hesitate to teach Ponder all the tricks of the trade he's learned throughout the years. Helping younger players has always been a priority for him. But he is comfortable doing that because he is also confident enough in his own abilities that he has another "four or five" good starting seasons left in him.
"We'll continue to work together and help each other, push each other, challenge each other and make each other better," McNabb said.
The two have shown an easy chemistry in the first few days of training camp. Because he restructured his contract, McNabb is not allowed to practice until Thursday. He's watched Ponder and Joe Webb run the offense, and he even jokingly gave Ponder a shoulder massage on Tuesday.
"I'm hoping and believing that it's not going to impeded Christian's progress, nor Joe's," Frazier said. "Both those guys we have a lot of high hope for and we expect them just to continue to get better and to continue to compete every single day of practice. So I don't see it in any way being able to or having a negative effect on their growth."
Like the rest of his offensive teammates who are learning a new system under coordinator Bill Musgrave, the first few days for Ponder have been more about teaching and getting back into the practice routine after so much time away from coaching.
He connected with Jaymar Johnson on a pretty 40-yard pass during a seven-on-seven drill on Tuesday morning and has one more day of practice on Wednesday before McNabb steps in.
"I think it's definitely going to be a big advantage for me," Ponder said of McNabb's presence. "I don't have the pressure to learn everything in two weeks and get everything down. The guy that's coming in and I can learn from takes that pressure off.
"But still, at the same time, I would have loved to start Week 1. I'm going to try and do it in my mind. I doubt it's going to happen, but in my mind I'm still shooting for that job."