McNabb had to sit out the first three days of training camp practices while the new collective bargaining agreement is finalized, but quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson said he knows the benefit of having a veteran among the quarterback corps.
"I think it's a little more of a comfort zone with a guy that's been through all the wars. I've known that from my history that's kind of what I'm used to," Johnson said. "Having a guy that's been out there and has seen all the multiple defenses, fronts, coverages – all the things that go along with that – and handling the spot of the quarterback is always a good thing. Plus, he's a guy [to use as a] resource, no matter how much you talk as a coach, it's always nice to have a veteran guy in the room that the younger guys can talk to that's different from a coach that can say, ‘Hey, these are the expectations and things that are going to happen to you as a quarterback.'"
Because he restructured his contract as part of the trade from Washington to Minnesota, McNabb hasn't been able to practice with the Vikings yet. That should change for their Thursday afternoon practice, which is scheduled to start at the same time as the expected start of the new league year.
Although McNabb hasn't been able to take part in all the physical activity of practices, the 12-year veteran of the NFL has been in film sessions and observing the installation of the offense on the field. Johnson said McNabb is up to speed on that part of his progression to coordinator Bill Musgrave's offense.
"Fortunately or unfortunately, back at my last place of employ, I went through this once where we had a veteran come in real late and made that happen. I think right now mentally Donovan's doing really well," Johnson said. "Nomenclature is always the biggest learning curve for all the veterans coming in – what do we call it versus what another team calls it. He's able to call it; he's able to repeat it. Now it's going to have to be muscle memory. He's got to be able to take it [like] I've called it, but now I've got to be able to transfer it to my muscle to make sure it happens on the field. Not the very generic stuff, but the little intricacies that make our offense unique."
Ponder actually had a head start on the offense. While McNabb was still wondering about his future with the Washington Redskins in May and June, Ponder had Musgrave's playbook in hand and worked on it with several teammates who gathered at the IMG Madden Football Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Vikings coaches had quite a bit of contact with Ponder before they drafted him No. 12 – talking to him at the Senior Bowl in January and NFL Scouting Combine in February. But last week was the first time since the day after they drafted him that coaches were able to have contact with him because of the NFL lockout.
"Watching him, he's kind of what I expected him to be from watching his college tape. He's very athletic, makes good decisions, got enough juice in the deep ball – which you're hoping to make that happen – can escape the pocket a little bit," Johnson said. "The things he needs to work on are what all [young QBs do] – reps, tempo, getting to the line of scrimmage, managing the line of scrimmage."
Ponder appears to be making progress and improving with each day of practice he has put in at training camp. He admitted to having a few nerves on the first day, but by Tuesday was feeling more confident. So far, to borrow a Dennis Green saying, he is who Johnson thought he was.
"I think I'm pleasantly happy. My expectations of him, that's where he's at," Johnson said. "He gets it. He had good coaching. I think that we're going to continue to try to keep that on, and all the good points that we saw in him before are kind of showing up."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.