Vikings’ QB Ponder starting to look sharper
The Vikings’ offense in general and quarterback Christian Ponder in particular began to show some spark at the end of the first full week of training camp.
After being dominated in practices by the defense, the offense looked crisp and in some cases explosive during Saturday night’s practice in front of about 10,000 fans at Mankato State University’s Blakeslee Stadium.
Never mind that the Vikings’ defense was down to its fifth cornerback and also rested some of the older veterans during parts of the practice. After the week the Vikings’ offense had, one can’t be too picky with the progress that was made.
“Much sharper,” said coach Leslie Frazier, looking a little relieved as he talked about the offense.
During the 11-on-11 red-zone segment of practice, Ponder completed 4 of 4 passes with touchdowns to No. 1 receiver Greg Jennings and Stephen Burton, one of several players fighting for the fifth receiver spot.
Ponder also hit a couple of nice deep balls, showing some touch that had eluded him during most of the first seven days of practices.
“To hit that explosive one to Jerome, that’s what we’re hoping to see,” Frazier said. “If we can do that, we can loosen up the secondary and force teams to not play their safeties in the box.”
And that’s a huge deal with a run-first offense featuring Adrian Peterson. The reigning league MVP ran for 2,097 yards last year while teams were stacking the line of scrimmage with eight and nine defenders.
Ponder’s ability to hit Simpson deep, work the ball over the middle to Jennings and find mismatches with tight end Kyle Rudolph will be a key to balancing the offense. Meanwhile, special teams also play a key role in ball-control offenses.
Rookie punter Jeff Locke has been blasting the ball in practice. But his role as a holder is just as important. Kicker Blair Walsh, who made first-team All-Pro as a rookie a year ago, was extremely comfortable with last year’s holder/punter Chris Kluwe, who was released and signed by the Raiders.
In Saturday night’s practice, Walsh made 7 of 10 field-goal attempts, including a 58-yarder. He missed wide right from 33, 45 and 48 yards. The 45-yarder was the result of a bad snap. On a 43-yard make, Locke dropped a shaky snap but was able to pick it up and place it quick enough for Walsh to make good contact.
n It’s been a quiet camp, just the way Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman like it. Even a positive test for PEDs wasn’t that big a deal because it happened to DeMarcus Love, a third-year offensive tackle who hasn’t played a down in the NFL and wasn’t expected to change that with the Vikings this season.
But who says the media can’t try to create a “distraction.” Perhaps that’s what one reporter was thinking when he asked Frazier if reigning league MVP Adrian Peterson’s widely (over-publicized goal of 2,500 yards rushing was a “distraction.”
“Guys in general are one thing,” Frazier said. “Adrian Peterson is another. When Adrian says 2,500 or 2,000 it’s a different thing. It’s a different matter. Because he’s more than capable of achieving those goals. I’ve learned that. When he told me last season that he was going to have the type of year that he did have and for it to turn out the way it did, I don’t doubt Adrian Peterson. If he says he can gain 2,500, it’s possible. If it was someone else talking about predictions and this or that, maybe we’ll have a conversation. But Adrian? Nah. I like to see him achieve his goals.”
n Peterson doesn’t list the Pro Football Hall of Fame as his ultimate goal. But he figures his ultimate goal is so high that it will earn him a spot in Canton, Ohio as soon as he’s eligible.
“I feel like with my mindset being set on being the best player to ever play, the Hall of Fame has to come with that,” Peterson said. “It’s not something I think about, like ‘Oh I got to make it to the Hall of Fame.’ I think it will happen because of my mindset and what I’m trying to accomplish.”
QUOTE TO NOTE: “Eliminating kickoffs? That’s part of the game. At some point, how many rules of the game do you change where we don’t have football anymore? Football is football from its purest form. From kickoff, kickoff return and not to mention now you’re taking a Pro Bowl spot away from a guy, from a Josh Cribbs (a return specialist now in Oakland). Percy Harvin made his first Pro Bowl as a return guy. And so for me, I think you’re cheating the players. So I’m personally not for it.” - Vikings defensive end and multiple Pro Bowler Jared Allen, while voicing his disappointment with the new Pro Bowl rules.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: No one has turned more heads than fourth-year pro Everson Griffen. Griffen, a fourth-year pro playing in a contract year, had three sacks in the annual Saturday night practice to end the first full week of camp. Griffen, who had a career-high eight sacks a year ago, can play either end position and is an inside rusher in the nickel. He’s also a special teams standout and also can play linebacker when the Vikings throw in the occasional 3-4 nickel look. Griffen looks especially quick and motivated this camp.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Marcus Robinson is the safest, most sure-handed punt returner the Vikings have. But a lack of explosiveness and the fact that he might not make the team as a backup cornerback has the Vikings auditioning several candidates to replace the incumbent. Receivers Stephen Burton and Jarius Wright are in the mix, as is cornerback Bobby Felder. Burton and Felder are risky candidates because they’re on the roster bubble. Wright definitely will make the team, but might be too valuable as a top-three receiver to risk on punt returns. Another option is receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. The rookie first-round draft pick has the kickoff return job locked up, but might get a look at punt returner in Friday’s preseason opener at the Metrodome.
n WR Greg Childs (knees) is on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
n LB Nate Williams (knee) is on PUP.
n CB Josh Robinson (hamstring) is limited. He’s day-to-day.
n CB Xavier Rhodes (hamstring) missed practice Friday and Saturday and is day-to-day.
n S Mistral Raymond (hamstring) missed practice Friday and Saturday and is day-to-day.
n LB Desmond Bishop (groin) missed practice Saturday and is day-to-day.