With the Vikings' decision to bench Donovan McNabb and give rookie Christian Ponder his shot at being a starting NFL quarterback, the ripple effect has spread throughout the Vikings locker room. The clear indication is that if the quarterback position can see a starter benched for a backup, it could happen anywhere.
Many players said Wednesday that the decision was made by the coaching staff and it isn't a player's job to question the rationale of the coaches.
The reaction to the move, however, was pretty positive, especially with tight end Kyle Rudolph – a fellow rookie who has struck a strong bond with Ponder after the two met following the draft and worked out at a Florida training facility during the lockout. He said that he has seen what Ponder is capable of and is happy that he is getting the opportunity.
"I'm happy for him," Rudolph said. "As everyone knows, we have a pretty close relationship. I feel like he's put in the time and effort to prepare himself in this situation. Christian brings hard work, effort and a lot of determination to succeed."
For decades, it was believed that rookie quarterbacks had to take their lumps before they become successful. But wide receiver Michael Jenkins said that isn't necessarily the case anymore. He should know. He played with rookie Matt Ryan when he came to Atlanta. Similar success has been enjoyed by rookie starters Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez, both of whom not only led their teams to the playoffs, but have made deep postseason runs.
Ponder is just the latest young QB to be given his shot at success, and Jenkins believes Ponder has the chance to succeed much sooner than many may give him credit for.
"I think you've seen around the league over the last few years that rookies can come in and be successful," Jenkins said. "Cam Newton is doing well. (Blaine) Gabbert is playing. Andy Dalton has done a nice job in Cincinnati. They've shown it can be done."
Those assigned with protecting Ponder said they weren't stunned to see it. With a talented team off to a 1-5 start to the season, something needed to be done to shake things up. Offensive tackle Charlie Johnson, who never had to deal with such a situation in Indianapolis since Peyton Manning started every game he played prior to this season, said the Vikings needed something to try to light a fire under the team and energize the fan base.
"You get to this point in the season and you're looking for a spark or something to get you going," Johnson said. "Coach Frazier and the coaching staff felt this was something we needed to be done to get us going. We're behind it. We're on board. Christian has all of our confidence. We're just going to go out and play and see what happens."
Fellow lineman Anthony Herrera said much of this week of practice, from the lineman's perspective, will be getting used to how Ponder calls signals at the line of scrimmage. Often times, when a new quarterback comes in, there will be more false start penalties, because the linemen have to get used to the voice inflection of a new quarterback.
"Learning his cadence will be the hardest part – just getting accustomed to his cadence," Herrera said. "Some bark a little bit louder and others are a little more even. That's just the biggest difference."
The receivers don't have those same types of adjustments. While every quarterback throws a different kind of ball – different spin and velocity – Jenkins said the receivers' jobs won't change.
"There aren't as much in the way of differences for us as receivers than there is for the offensive line," Jenkins said. "Guys will throw a different ball, so that takes a little adjusting to, but it's the same offense and same play calls. It's just a different guy throwing the ball."
While Vikings fans haven't seen Ponder in action since the preseason, when he was admittedly tentative at times, Johnson said the quarterback fans are going to see Sunday will be a different quarterback than the nervous kid who was trying to make a big impression in cameo duty early on.
"I see a guy who is very poised," Johnson said. "This situation isn't easy to handle. Any time you switch quarterbacks, it's kind of a tough deal for the new guy. He's very calm and looks very eager to show what he can do."
He also isn't tentative when it comes to asserting his authority in the huddle. Jenkins said he saw a lot of good things from Ponder at the end of Sunday's game with Chicago and that he is starting to gain the swagger most elite quarterbacks have.
"He comes in and takes command," Jenkins said. "He's not shy about it. You definitely need that at that position. I think he's going to do well. He's been waiting for this and getting ready. He'll get his chance this weekend."
While the change may mark the end of McNabb as the Vikings' starting quarterback, kicker Ryan Longwell was quick to point out that the problems with the Vikings have been in all three phases – an offense that has sputtered, a defense that has failed to make key stops in the second half of games and the special teams making critical mistakes. The Vikings are 1-5 for a reason and, while the switch to Ponder is viewed as a step in the right direction – both short-term and long-term – it has been a group effort and not solely on the shoulders of McNabb.
"We certainly know that Donovan isn't the reason we're at where we are," Longwell said. "We're rallying around Christian and excited for the opportunity for him. But we also know that our record is a reflection of all of us not making plays when we've had the chance – whether it's a missed field goal or a kickoff given up or an offensive or defensive play where we needed to make a tackle or make a catch. We realize we're responsible for it and we're scratching and clawing to give us a chance to win on Sunday."
Ready or not, the Christian Ponder Era begins on Sunday against the Packers. Will it last long? Will be a successful era? Only time will tell, but, from the mood in the Vikings locker room after it became official that Ponder is the man moving forward at quarterback, it would seem they have a united front to try to help make him as successful as he can be and help justify the Vikings taking him with the 12th overall pick in the 2011 draft.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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