Christian Ponder was supposed to be a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback as a senior at Florida State but battled through injuries instead. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty)
John Crist: Fans were shocked when the Vikings took Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder in the first round -- No. 12 overall -- of the NFL Draft, and while the reaction didn't necessarily bring back memories of the Philly faithful booing Donovan McNabb, it was certainly a head scratcher. Now that a few months have gone by, has the temperature changed in Minnesota?
Tim Yotter: For fans who haven't completely abandoned the NFL during its lockout and paid attention to the few things that are going on, their temperature is changing. They haven't been able to see a lot of footage of him throwing yet, but it's the intangibles we've reported on that are starting to turn fans around. They are seeing his dedication with his workouts at the IMG Academies. They are seeing his leadership in trying to bring other teammates there. And they are seeing him generally trying to make the best of a bad situation.
Having spent some time with Ponder, he's easy to like and I think he'll be able to win over the fans fairly quickly... as long as his play on the field shows promise.
JC: Surprisingly, it's been Ponder doing what he can to organize the offseason workouts during the lockout, which is unheard of for an untested rookie. But he has been a mainstay at IMG Academies in Bradenton, getting his direction from fellow former Seminole QB and seven-year NFL veteran Chris Weinke. How has Ponder's initiative been perceived by his new teammates?
TY: I think the leaders of the team appreciate what he's trying to do. Visanthe Shiancoe didn't get there for the first round of workouts, but he was there last week. Bernard Berrian apparently missed his flight for the first round, but the fact that he made any attempt to join up with Ponder is a step in the right direction. I know Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin have their own workout routines, but those would be the two biggest disappointments that they haven't made it there to work on chemistry.
With rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph and reserve receivers Greg Camarillo and Emmanuel Arceneaux making it there, you could see a bond forming between them and Ponder and the other quarterbacks (Joe Webb and Rhett Bomar).
JC: Weinke has described Ponder as a hybrid signal caller, a great athlete with a solid arm that will probably win more games with his intangibe smarts than his tangible skills. He can throw, but he's not Jay Cutler. He can run, but he's not Michael Vick. He understands route concepts, but he's not Peyton Manning. What do you like about Ponder's game? What do you dislike?
TY: I like the fact that he is a well-rounded quarterback when it comes to physical skills. You don't have to be the best at any one trait, but he has an NFL-worthy arm and is probably a better athlete than most give him credit for. But you are right. It is his intangibles that could make him the starter early. He graduated in two and a half years and then got his master's degree, pulling down a 3.7 grade-point average during his time at Florida State. He's personable, which helps a lot when trying to lead a team. And he seems like he would have some poise in the pocket, although we'll have to wait and see how he reacts when the action is live and he's dealing with the rush of a bad-intentioned defensive lineman.
What I like least is his injury history. He played through a lot last year with fluid building up in his arm and having to be drained. I don't question his toughness, but after Vikings fans saw the trouble that Tarvaris Jackson had staying on the field when given his chances, they have to hope Ponder doesn't follow that pattern.
JC: Ponder was billed as an ideal fit for the West Coast Offense, just like the one Brett Favre mastered in Green Bay and could dial up in his sleep with the Vikings. However, ex-coach Brad Childress is no longer a part of the organiztion, and even if new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave runs a WCO-like scheme, it's not pure WCO. What are the subtle differences?
TY: It will be Musgrave's mix-and-match offense, and frankly the jury will be out for a while on it unless there is immediate improvement, which would be improbable given the compressed preparation time players will be facing whenever the season starts. From talks with those in the know, there are influences from the West Coast, which Musgrave played under and coached under.
But the offensive linemen will also be used more than in just zone-blocking schemes. There will be influences from the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans. But I think the most obvious differences fans will see is an emphasis on the running game and having two tight ends on the field that are both legitimate receiving threats.
JC: When the lockout finally ends and we get back to the business of football, it will be interesting to see how the trade and free-agent markets develop for passers. Would the Vikings still entertain a trade for Kevin Kolb? Does it make more sense to sign a former Pro Bowler like Marc Bulger? If you had to place a wager today, is Ponder the starter come Week 1?
TY: No, yes and yes. It would make no sense for the Vikings to pay high-draft-pick compensation for a quarterback like Kolb after drafting Ponder. But having someone who is still capable of starting but realizes his career is in the twilight -- Bulger would seem to be the ideal candidate -- makes a lot of sense. He could mentor Ponder, Webb and even Bomar, and if Ponder or Webb is the best candidate when the season starts, so be it. But, ultimately, even a veteran, is going to have to learn a somewhat new offense while the three quarterbacks currently under contract have been learning the playbook from Weinke down in Florida over the last six weeks.
For that reason, and because of Leslie Frazier's desire to have a young quarterback in the saddle early, Ponder is the most likely candidate to start the season.For all the latest news, notes and quotes on the Vikings, visit VikingUpdate.com.
|John Crist is an NFL analyst for Scout.com. Tim Yotter is the publisher of VikingUpdate.com.|