Ponder's draft success has ties to Mazzone

Over 1,800 miles separate Tempe from Tallahassee, so it was going to be a long trip for Christian Ponder to travel in order to train with ASU's grad assistant Taylor Mazzone and his father and prepare for the NFL draft. The former Florida State quarterback was selected 12th overall in by the Minnesota Vikings last Thursday, proving that being coached by the Mazzones was ultimately worthwhile.

Many NFL draft experts were shocked by how high the 6-2 229 Christian Ponder was selected. He was the fourth signal caller taken in the first round of the draft and only the third quarterback in Minnesota Vikings' history to be picked in the first round.

Draft analysts were concerned with arm strength and past injuries, especially a forearm injury Ponder suffered late in his Florida State career. A strong performance in the Senior Bowl and subsequent workouts proved to the Vikings, and perhaps some other teams as well that didn't have the chance to draft him, that Ponder was indeed one of the top-tier prospects in a quarterback-deep draft class.

Taylor Mazzone and his father Noel, Arizona State's offensive coordinator, were integral in priming Ponder the last four months for the Senior Bowl, NFL combine and private workouts – all events where Ponder impressed NFL scouts.

"I think it's awesome that he picked that high," said Taylor Mazzone. "With (Jake) Locker getting picked eighth I didn't know how far that would push back Christian and I was excited that he got drafted 12th."

Ponder and Noel Mazzone share the same agent, Jimmy Sexton, who recommended to the quarterback that he train with father and son Mazzone. Sexton advised Ponder that the Mazzone tandem also help train Tim Tebow, who was drafted last year by the Denver Broncos in another first round surprise.

"Once a quarterback signs with Jimmy he gets sent to us to train him in the off-season," Taylor Mazzone explained. "My father and I get him ready for the draft. Last year with Tim we went to Gainesville for a week to work him out and this year we met Christian at the ATI facility in Scottsdale to train him.

"My dad and I were running him through different drills everyday. I grew up watching my dad coach quarterbacks and I learned his drills and technique in coaching so it was cool to go out there when my dad wasn't available and have Christian go through some drills. We are both almost the same age and we had a great relationship and spent a lot of hours working out at ATI."

Ponder's forearm injury was affecting his fundamentals during the 2010 campaign and this was an aspect that was worked on with Mazzone during the workouts, as well as improving his footwork.

"As a quarterback you try to get your arm up and he was dragging his elbow," Mazzone explained. "He was losing some power in the technique that he developed when he had that forearm injury. With the routine in our drills we got him back to being sound with his arm, give him some arm speed and help him be more balanced when throwing the football. We worked on his accuracy too. To be a good quarterback you have to have good footwork so that is something we worked on a lot too."

Mazzone agreed that working with Tebow last year certainly helped him in training Ponder not only in having the experience of working in this setting but also now having the credibility of helping a quarterback, such as Tebow, elevate against the odds to becoming a first round selection.

"When I walk up the quarterbacks and they know I worked with Tim Tebow before last year's draft," Mazzone commented, "that gives them confidence in me and working with all these quarterbacks is making me a better coach.

"We know what scouts want to see during your workout and we have a great game plan to put the quarterback through certain drills that will help him. When scouts ask someone like Ponder to do certain drills in a workout, it's a drill that he has already done a 100 times with us."

There is no doubt that Taylor Mazzone's work the last couple of years with those two Florida quarterbacks should pay dividends closer to home too, primarily with starting Sun Devil signal caller Brock Osweiler.

"When I saw Brock after Tebow got drafted," Mazzone recalled, "He joked and said ‘I saw what you did to Tebow. I will listen to you.' But really ever since my dad and I came here Brock and the rest of the quarterbacks have always had open ears, always want to know about new drills we had drawn up. They always have been great and want to know what drill we are going to do next.

"I know Brock has the work ethic to get to where those quarterbacks (Tebow and Ponder) are. It would be great to work with him before the draft when that time comes, but that is down the road. Right now he has to use that work ethic to get ready for fall camp."

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