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Vikings try a quarterback sneak with Ponder, Cassel

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WATFORD, England — The Minnesota Vikings might have found a convenient way to take a look at backup quarterback Matt Cassel without technically benching the struggling Christian Ponder.

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Whether anyone buys it is another matter entirely.

The team is an hour outside of London in a quiet countryside hotel and practice facility as they prepare for a “home” game against the Steelers on Sunday at Wembley Stadium.

It also appeared on Wednesday to be the perfect setting in which to subtly drop the news that Ponder had suffered a rib injury early against the Cleveland Browns game and might not be able to play against the Steelers.

Ponder said the injury didn’t prohibit him from throwing normally during the rest of the Browns game, nor was it preventing him from throwing on Wednesday. He said the biggest concern is taking contact, adding that throwing is “uncomfortable, but (the pain is) manageable.”

“I wasn’t sure how serious it was and kind of played through it and was fine,” Ponder said. “I got the news (Tuesday) morning that it was injured.”

So, to be clear, the injury was news to him.

Ponder, per team protocol, wouldn’t reveal the extent of the injury. He said his mindset is to do everything in his power to play but “would be smart” about not risking further injury.

“My mindset is we’re going to do what’s best for the team,” Ponder said. “If I can’t perform my regular duties, then Matt is going to step in and play.”

Coach Leslie Frazier said Wednesday that he needed to watch Ponder in practice this week to make a determination. Ponder was limited in practice on Wednesday even though the injury was never mentioned on Sunday or Monday.

Early signs point toward Cassel, the former Chiefs starter who was a Pro Bowler in 2011 and a turnover machine that got benched a year ago, will make his Vikings debut on Sunday. The Vikings and Steelers are both 0-3 and desperate to shake things up.

The Steelers are the only team in the league without a takeaway, while the Vikings have turned the ball over 10 times, second most in the league behind only the Giants. Ponder has continued his trend of up-and-down play. He’s spent more times down than up, having turned the ball over seven times while posting a 65.9 passer rating that ranks 30th in the league.

“Christian’s a tough kid,” Cassel said. “I don’t know his situation or how it’s going to go, but I’ve got to prepare like I’m going to play.”

Given the suspicious nature of Wednesday’s events in London, that would be a wise move on Cassel’s part.

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