Ponder out to reward Vikings’ faith
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.—Christian Ponder was watching during draft time in April, when the Minnesota Vikings passed on a chance to bring in another quarterback in favour of a left tackle to keep Ponder off his back.
He also noticed last week when general manager Rick Spielman and coach Leslie Frazier decided to cut veteran back-up Sage Rosenfels and instead keep a stable of young quarterbacks with Ponder at the top of the depth chart.
The Vikings open the regular season at home against Jacksonville this Sunday. With Adrian Peterson likely to carry a light load if he plays at all, the offence will run through Ponder’s right arm.
Even though his exhibition performances weren’t exactly emphatic, Ponder enters the season brimming with confidence.
“It helps me to see Rick Spielman adding pieces around me,” Ponder said. “It shows that he has confidence in me to build around me.
“When others show confidence in [you], that just keeps building it,” he reasoned.
“I think this year is going to be a lot better than last year, especially for me.”
It’s going to have to be. The Vikings went 3-13, with Ponder starting 10 games after the failed Donovan McNabb experiment.
Without an off-season to prepare because of the lock-out, Ponder was ragged. He had his moments—381 yards against Denver and performing admirably against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at the Metrodome—but also struggled with accuracy and inconsistency.
He threw 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and sustained several injuries with his scrambling style.
The Vikings lost seven of the last eight games and finished in last place for the second-straight season.
“I take a lot of the blame of what happened last year on myself,” Ponder said. “It really didn’t have a lot to do with what other players were doing.
“I was making bad mistakes and dumb decisions,” he admitted. “I could’ve done a better job of helping our team turn it around and play better, and I didn’t.
“I played poorly. It was a situation that I didn’t help.”
With the same offensive co-ordinator and quarterbacks’ coach in place, Ponder said he feels much more comfortable this season.
“It creates just a whole different atmosphere and confidence between myself and the coaching staff,” he remarked.
“I’m glad I went through what happened last year, and I think that being in the same offence is only going to help myself and the rest of the guys that are a part of it.”
Ponder played sparingly in the pre-season, completing 60.5 percent of his passes for 331 yards, one touchdown, and one interception in three games.
The Vikings’ first-team offence moved the ball up and down the field with plenty of success in the first two games.
But the group took a big step backwards in the third game, which served as the dress rehearsal for the season-opener.
Ponder was sacked five times in less than three quarters by the San Diego Chargers, several of them because he held the ball too long.
He completed just 9-of-16 passes for 115 yards and an interception before exiting the game—not exactly the commanding performance he was looking for to solidify his status as the team’s franchise quarterback.
“I know there’s a lot for me to learn as a quarterback and there’s a lot for me to grow, but I don’t want to make mistakes,” Ponder said. “I don’t expect myself to make mistakes ever.
“I do know, and I do realize, that even the greatest make mistakes at times, and those are just learning moments that you have to learn from and grow from,” he reasoned.
The Vikings don’t need Ponder to be Joe Montana this season. They’ve started a rebuilding phase in the suddenly-powerful NFC North.
But they do need him to show some signs that he eventually will be up to the task of leading this offence for the next decade.