Vikings name Freeman starting QB for Monday's game
EDEN PRAIRIE — Wide receiver Greg Jennings played with two starting quarterbacks over a span of 106 games with the Green Bay Packers. On Monday night, he will make it three starting quarterbacks in a four-game stretch with the Vikings when Josh Freeman makes his Minnesota debut against the winless New York Giants in East Rutherford, N.J.
Another week, another shift at quarterback for the team that just three weeks ago was still calling Christian Ponder its quarterback of the future.
Ponder no longer holds that role. On Wednesday, the Vikings made the quarterback change they hope will last not only for this season but well beyond.
With the Vikings 1-4 and coming off a humiliating 35-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers in Matt Cassel’s second start in place of Ponder, coach Leslie Frazier took a leap of faith, hoping it was not a premature plunge. Nine days after Freeman signed with the Vikings, seven days after he met most of his teammates and the same day he took his first practice reps with the first-team offense, the 25-year-old was tabbed to lead the Vikings. Monday will be his 60th NFL start, the first 59 coming with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who drafted him 17th overall in 2009.
Frazier said the decision was finalized when Freeman took charge of a post-practice scrimmage with young backup players a week ago. However, Freeman’s ascent was the inevitable conclusion once the Vikings paid $3 million for one season to sign him after he was cut by the Bucs. When Cassel threw two interceptions and failed to move the Vikings in the blowout loss to the Panthers, promoting Freeman was a no-brainer.
“The way he functioned that day in practice, it was far different than what I expected, than what any of our coaches expected,” Frazier said. “From the moment he stepped in the building, he wanted to learn. And the way he handled himself in that practice, it changed my mindset about the possibilities. We had a timeframe in mind originally, but watching what he did from the day he arrived, that cemented it for me that sooner was a possibility.”
Freeman passed for 4,000 yards a year ago, but he struggled with the Bucs this season. He ranks 34th in passer rating (59.3) after completing just 45.7 percent of his passes.
Freeman, however, has the big arm and the downfield passing ability that the Vikings are counting on to complement their run-oriented offense built around reigning league MVP Adrian Peterson. Freeman also believes his learning curve in what is essentially a West Coast-type of scheme won’t be too steep.
“I have a pretty good grasp of the offense,” he said. “I’ve got three years of college and kind of a mixture the first few years in the NFL with this exact offense, so it’s coming along pretty quickly. At the end of the day, football is football.”
Frazier also named Ponder as Freeman’s backup. Cassel, 1-1 as a starter with the Vikings, will be the No. 3 quarterback.
Ponder’s future with the team is uncertain. Frazier said he couldn’t envision a scenario in which Ponder isn’t on the roster the remainder of the season. However, general manager Rick Spielman makes all personnel decisions. If any team steps up with an offer for Ponder, Spielman would listen.
As for Ponder, the 12th overall pick in 2011, his tune about a trade changed over the past week. A week ago, he said a trade would be “difficult to deal with.”
Ponder, 25, was asked again Wednesday whether he would welcome a trade before the Oct. 29 deadline.
“I don’t know,” said Ponder, who lost his job this year because of a fractured rib but didn’t get it back when he came out of the bye week healthy enough to play. “I have to figure out what’s best for me and for this team. I don’t know if that’s staying here or going somewhere else.”
As for Frazier, he hasn’t ruled out having to go back to Ponder at some point, but he clearly wants Freeman to remain on the job long-term.
“We’re hoping Josh is going to have a great game on Monday night,” Frazier said. “That’s how we’re looking at it. We’re not looking at the glass being half-empty. We expect him to play well and our team to play well.”