Vikings waiting for Ponder to look the part
MANKATO — If all eyes with the Minnesota Vikings are on quarterback Christian Ponder, then all eyes are a little concerned in the early stages of the team’s training camp.
As the first full week of camp dawned on Monday, those who were around for Saturday’s practice were no doubt anxious to see if Ponder could improve upon his first days of camp.
It was unseasonably cool and blustery during the first two days, but Ponder still threw too many balls that were too high, too low, too late and/or too often caught by the defense. Ponder even overshot a simple out route to a 6-foot-5 receiver who wasn’t covered.
“You don’t want to just write those turnovers off,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “You want to try to dissect them and figure out why they happened and what we can do to correct them. When we watch tape, we talk about what we did well and what we didn’t do well and try to make those corrections. But you don’t gloss over them, even if it is just the second day of training camp.”
Ponder hasn’t felt the kind of pressure he’ll face this season. Not only is he paired with reigning league MVP Adrian Peterson, but he now has a legitimate NFL quarterback backing him up in Matt Cassel.
The Vikings signed Cassel, the former backup in New England and one-time Pro Bowler as a starter in Kansas City, when it was painfully obvious that Joe Webb wasn’t an NFL quarterback. Webb, who flopped in place of the injured Ponder in last season’s playoff loss at Green Bay, was moved to receiver this offseason.
Cassel has said all the right things about this being Ponder’s team. But there’s little question the Vikings won’t stand pat as patiently has they did a year ago if Ponder has another prolonged slump.
Ponder has proved he can do all the things the Vikings need at quarterback. But he hasn’t come close to proving he can do it week in and week out.
A year ago, he was not good in the regular-season loss at Green Bay, but outstanding in the rematch at the Metrodome 28 days later. At Green Bay, the Vikings fell to 6-6 as Ponder made two poor decisions on two interceptions that wrecked a winnable game. Four weeks later, however, he threw three touchdown passes and posted a career-high 120.2 passer rating as the Vikings capped a 4-0 finish by beating the Packers in a must-win game to make the playoffs.
It was a head-scratching month in a head-scratching career. Then came the playoff game, which Ponder missed because of an injury to his throwing elbow.
Had Ponder not been hurt, Webb wouldn’t have been exposed and Cassel likely wouldn’t have been signed as a legitimate Plan B should Ponder flounder.
The Vikings insist they have no intention of going away from Ponder as long as he’s healthy. But it would be an easier transition this year because Cassel’s skill set is similar to those of Ponder.
“We’re going to employ a lot of the same concepts that we do with Christian when Matt is in there,” offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “That helps our team. The other 10 guys have had the time on task with all those concepts. So we don’t want to have two distinctly different guys. And Matt fits that mold where he can step in and we wouldn’t miss a beat.”
Whether that happens or not might depend on whether Ponder plays much better than he has early in camp.