BRADENTON, Fla. – With NFL owners locking out their players in the labor dispute, Vikings rookie Christian Ponder has called an audible.
Since teams aren't allowed to contact and coach their players during the labor impasse, Ponder, the Vikings' first-round draft choice, has taken matters into his own hands. The No. 12 overall pick in the draft invited his new teammates to train with him at the IMG Madden Football Academy in Bradenton, Fla. this week. On Tuesday, for the first full day of activity, only seven Vikings were there, but others are expected to join on Wednesday.
"For me, it was kind of for selfish reasons as a quarterback to get here and start getting to know my receivers and getting to know the guys that will be around me, especially for timing and everything," Ponder said. "It's hard right now when we don't have the OTAs and minicamps and everything where I could get that timing down and get comfortable with the guys. I think it's huge for us to get together at some point during the summer and get some sort of activity in together."
Depsite Ponder being a rookie, the fact that he began organizing the workouts this week as a band-aid for bleeding minicamp repetitions has impressed even the veterans.
"It's good. It shows you his intent. He wants to get out here and make a difference right away. He knows he's disadvantaged with the lockout," said receiver Greg Camarillo. "He's a smart guy. I've read about all the different degrees he has. He's figured it out. He knows the extra stuff he needs to do in a lockout to prepare himself for when the season starts."
All three of the Vikings quarterbacks under contract – Ponder, Joe Webb and Rhett Bomar – were working out at IMG on Tuesday. Receiver Bernard Berrian is expected to join on Wednesday and other additions are possible as well. Tuesday started with stretching and agility training and moved to the weight room for the remainder of the morning.
"Basically we address the whole gamut with everybody. We address soft tissue work, we address vibration, we address sports hernia stuff. We go outside. We take them through a dynamic workout. … Most issues with all of the other athletes is, their core is very weak. Our goal is to train the total body," said IMG strength coach Jeff Dillman.
"I had athletes this year in the Combine that never trained the glutes before. The first thing athletes say when they do the warmups here and come to train with us here is they're like, ‘Holy cow, my butt is on fire' because we're training their glutes properly."
After lunch, the players went into a film session to learn new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's scheme. Since Musgrave can't have contact with the players because of the lockout, they are working off the playbook Ponder got after being drafted and former Florida State and NFL quarterback Chris Weinke, now with IMG, is doing the coaching.
Weinke said he doesn't keep in touch with Musgrave, but with the playbook in hand, Weinke calls out the terminology for the quarterbacks to relay back to the receivers and tight ends as the team of seven moves to the outdoor practice fields in the afternoon.
"'[It's] mostly mental reps," Webb said following the afternoon session. "We got the playbook and just coming out here doing what we're doing, going over the formations and making sure the new guys are getting in tune with what we do, it's a big positive for us."
The "new guys" include second-round draft pick Kyle Rudolph and former CFL receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux, who was signed by the Vikings in January. The only offensive lineman attending is rookie center Brandon Fusco, who is paying his own way this week as he takes a respite from his minimum-wage landscaping job near Pittsburgh while he waits for a signed NFL contract that can't be executed until the lockout ends.
So far, the workouts have been mostly for relatively inexperienced players looking to get a head start on the league year, which doesn't officially begin until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached between the players and owners or until the courts step in and force a resumption of NFL activity.
Weinke, however, isn't new to the process. He played six years with the Carolina Panthers before a final NFL season with the San Francisco 49ers in 2007. He joined IMG in 2010 and has been offering Webb guidance for the last three weeks and Ponder since last week.
"He's just bringing the pro style stuff back to us," Webb said. "Being in the offseason, you can grab your partners and can get on the field and throw and you can do all types of things, but with Coach Weinke on the board pretty much quizzing us from the playbook and [he] keep on reminding us how fast the game is, how quickly you have to get the ball out of your hands – things like that. he's just a big reminder – hey, don't forget this is the NFL."
The Vikings' quarterbacks could train on their own at a high school field in their hometown, but bringing in receivers and learning the offense together should help them all get a jump start on the season.
"I think I'll be pretty comfortable. The biggest thing for me is we run a lot of the same things [at Florida State], but it's just the terminology is different," Ponder said. "Just getting the verbiage out and saying the right things and getting the snap count down and everything, that's the good thing about being here. I'm able to practice all that stuff and we kind of run our own little minicamp, Chris Weinke and I. I'll be as comfortable as I can be, but I know it will be different when I step on those white lines and have all those guys around me."
With Webb, Ponder and Bomar in Florida, it was an easy choice for Camarillo, who lives in Florida and got married this offseason.
"Our quarterbacks were here – Joe and Ponder were working out here – and it's not too long of a drive for me. It just made sense," Camarillo said. "The quarterbacks are the core of the team, so why not try to gather where they are."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Ponder gathers Vikings for lockout workouts
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