While Vikings coaches seem to be getting antsier about not getting to work with their players yet this offseason, a few of them were able to take some encouragement with quarterback Christian Ponder trying to organize workouts last week at the IMG Madden Football Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
"They've taken it upon themselves to keep in shape and take care of themselves as best they can," offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said.
But beyond the physical conditioning all three quarterbacks – Ponder, Joe Webb and Rhett Bomar – received in Florida, they were able to work on mechanics. Ponder said IMG director of football Chris Weinke was helping with the rookie's throwing motion, but Ponder also listed his two biggest goals as learning the playbook and improving his footwork.
Those came as no surprise to Vikings quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson.
"I would bet you if you talked to 95 percent of the college quarterbacks coming into the NFL, [they] would say that, even those that have been in the pro style, because the bottom line is that everything they have done in the college game is going to speed up," Johnson said. "Having been in this for 22 years, every quarterback that I've been with that's come into the NFL, if you ask him, [he'd say], ‘I've got to work on my footwork.' That's just what you do."
Vikings coaches can't have any communication with Ponder during the NFL lockout, but Musgrave and Johnson spent an extensive amount of time with Ponder and the other top quarterbacks in the draft in the months leading up to April's draft decision. After selecting him, coaches had a court-imposed, one-day reprieve from the rules of the lockout and took advantage of it.
Ponder was coming to Minnesota anyway for media and marketing purposes, but the short court order allowed coaches the opportunity to talk football and give Ponder a playbook. However, Johnson said he didn't communicate specifics that he thought Ponder should work to improve.
"I didn't pass that along because we didn't know what was going to happen at the time. We didn't try to get too into detail about what was going to happen," Johnson said. "It's our job as assistants in the NFL to find what they're not doing quite so good and try to make it better. I have not talked to him specifically about any single technique. I'll get that more when we get him here."
The Florida State coaching staff assembled a DVD of Ponder's good plays during trying times as part of a positive-reinforcement effort. Since drafting him, the Vikings have learned a few more things about his on-field abilities through more extensive film work and assembled their own list of plays to show him whenever they can start working with him.
"We went back and tried to put together a little deal of stuff that he's pretty strong on and there's some stuff that it would be nice, when the time comes, that we'd have him work on a little bit because everybody's got that," Johnson said.
Frazier was pleased that Ponder took it upon himself to try to organize group workouts at IMG among the skill-position players.
"Whatever they're able to get done, it's just good to know that guys are working out," Frazier said. "You cross your fingers and hope that guys are doing something to stay in some type of condition. You just hope that's the case."
While the Vikings had only seven offensive players there working out, Ponder's efforts at least left a positive impression on the coaching staff who were reading about it from afar.
"I think we knew most of the quarterbacks in this draft as well as we could. We knew that he had those leadership traits," Musgrave said. "We knew that Joe Webb has those leadership traits as well. So it's always pleasant to see that those traits they exhibited in high school and college have translated to the next level."
Musgrave said he dog-earred a few pages in the playbook during the brief lifting of the lockout for Ponder to work on this summer. Turns out Musgrave's move was spot-on and timely, as Ponder and other skill-position players were learning the playbook under Weinke's instruction in Florida.
"We flipped through the playbook as quickly as we could and just dog-earred a few pages that I thought were important, just in case it might be awhile before we saw one another again," Musgrave said.
While the coaches haven't been able to see Ponder work with their offense or his new teammates, they are anxious to get that chance.
"The bottom line is that I'm excited to have him. I'm excited to get him going," Johnson said. "I think he's a guy that's got a tremendous amount of potential. I'm excited about that. I'm excited, after having a chance to look at film … one thing about me is every quarterback that comes in is going to have a chance. They come in, hit the ground running and we'll be good to go."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings coaches pleased with Ponder's efforts
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