Vikings' Ponder sees ‘clean slate’
By Chris Tomasson
St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS — Christian Ponder knows what most people are thinking. Matt Cassel was re-signed to be the Vikings’ starting quarterback.
But Ponder isn’t thinking that.
“The expectation is that (Cassel is) going to be the starter,” Ponder said Wednesday after the second day of the Vikings’ first minicamp under new coach Mike Zimmer. “But for me, I’m competing for the job, and that’s what’s going on in my mind, the competition.”
Ponder was the top guy for most of last season and ended up making nine starts. But Cassel was solid starting the final four games and was rewarded after the season with a two-year, $10 million contract.
Ponder, though, is still around after three seasons with the Vikings. He admitted he wasn’t sure he would be.
“I didn’t know what was going to go on, but I’m still glad I’m here and I’m given an opportunity to compete, and we’re going to see what happens,” Ponder said. “There’s a clean slate for me.”
Ponder, who was 2-6-1 as a starter, wants to forget last year. He threw nine interceptions with just seven touchdown passes and lost four of seven fumbles.
“It was disappointing how the year went, but honestly when I left it was more motivation than anything,” he said. “I really worked hard this offseason more than I have in the past, and I didn’t want it to happen again. … Turnovers are the biggest thing, and that cost us quite a few games. Just some dumb decisions, and that’s been kind of the story the past three years. So it’s something that I got to fix.”
How much faith the Vikings have in Ponder long term remains to be seen. They have until Saturday to pick up his fifth-year contract option worth $9.686 million for 2015.
Ponder said he hasn’t heard anything about what might happen. If it is picked up, the Vikings still could cut him by March without further obligation unless he has a significant injury.
“I’m not thinking about it, plus the option doesn’t really mean much if they cut me without anything after this year,” Ponder said.
For now, Ponder is worrying about 2014. He’s trying to learn the system of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, which players say appears to be much more complicated than what the Vikings ran last year.
Cassel also is hard at work learning the new system, having already talked to Brian Hoyer, a quarterback under Turner last year in Cleveland. Even though the expectation is he will start, Cassel said he’s not getting ahead of himself.
“I don’t take anything for granted,” said Cassel, who was 3-3 as a starter last season. “This is a new coaching staff. It’s a new regime. You never know what is going to happen. You have to come out and earn it.”
Zimmer and Turner will get another look at their quarterbacks today in the final day of the three-day camp. Zimmer, who has four more veteran minicamps remaining, was asked what he’s looking for from them this spring.
“I want to see somebody that can lead the football team, No. 1,” Zimmer said. “Guys that can execute under pressure, guys that can lead us in the fourth quarter when the game’s on the line, but also make sure they know what everybody else is doing and kind of be the extension of Norv when we’re on the field.”
It remains to be seen whether the Vikings will pick up a quarterback next week with the No. 8 pick in the NFL draft or take one with a later selection. Ponder believes the team has enough now that taking a signal caller at No. 8 isn’t essential.
“I hope so,” Ponder said. “I don’t know what anybody else’s thoughts are in the office, but I hope they can see enough and let us compete.”
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.