Rookie Rudolph is Ponder's biggest backer

Christian Ponder and Kyle Rudolph spent several weeks of the offseason training together and have formed a tight bond since being drafted in the first and second rounds, respectively. Now they get their chance to play together, and Rudolph is ultra-confident in Ponder's abilities.

The ascent of Christian Ponder may serve a dual purpose for the Vikings in both the short-term and long-term. As he becomes the Vikings' starting quarterback, he brings his best friend on the team – second-round rookie TE Kyle Rudolph – with him.

While other players hemmed and hawed about whether it was justified to send a veteran like Donovan McNabb to the bench, Rudolph is embracing the opportunity to be part of the post-chrysalis phase of Ponder's flight into Vikings lore.

The Vikings have only drafted two quarterbacks in the first round in their history prior to Ponder. Daunte Culpepper threw a pass his rookie. Tommy Kramer started carving out his legend in 1977 – his rookie year – after Fran Tarkenton's ironman streak ended Nov. 13 and Bob Lee managed just 20 points in his first two starts in relief of Tark. On Dec. 4, Kramer came off the bench and rallied the Vikings with three fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 28-27 win over the 49ers. Even with his heroics, Kramer didn't become the full-time starter until 1979.

In many ways, Ponder is breaking new ground for the Vikings. He has the chance to start 10 games in his rookie season and potentially be a fixture in the Vikings starting lineup. When the minimal window of opportunity of opportunity presented itself draft weekend, Ponder reached out to Rudolph. As a general rule, Florida State guys and Notre Dame guys have a mutual disdain for one another. Ponder stuck out his hand and Rudolph accepted in the spirit intended.

Rudolph and Ponder have been tight as rusty lug nuts ever since. He and Ponder will have their first chance to see significant playing time together Sunday and Rudolph said this is just the tip of the iceberg.

"Hopefully, it will be that way for years to come," Rudolph said. "Since the Friday I was drafted, he called me and said we'll be together for a long time."

There is no question that Rudolph is all in on the change at quarterback. He realizes that he and Ponder are the next generation of a Vikings franchise in transition. With Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin already in place, they have a foundation on which to build the offense. Rudolph said he knows he is ready and said nobody will put in more overtime work than Ponder to help elevate the Vikings back into the mix of Super Bowl contenders. Whether they get there or not, time will be the final judge. But Rudolph said Ponder is up for the challenge.

"I feel that Christian brings hard work, effort and a lot of determination to succeed," Rudolph said. "As (head coach Leslie) Frazier said, it's time for a change and they make the decision."

Rudolph has no doubt that the decision to start Ponder is in the best interests of the team – both in the short-term and long-term. He isn't being thrown to the lions, but he's ready to be a gladiator.

"I think Christian is ready because of his preparation," Rudolph said. "Since Day One at training camp when we went out to practice and everyone knew Donovan was the starter, Christian didn't approach it that way. He went about his business as if he was the starter and each week he prepared as if he was the starter. He showed that when he came in the game at Chicago. The offense didn't miss a beat. He's going to take advantage of this opportunity."

When Ponder started warming up on the sidelines Sunday night late in the third quarter, it was an opportunity for the Vikings coaching staff to see what he could do. If he failed miserably, it would be easy to say they just gave him a taste of live action and would return to McNabb. But, while he didn't produce any points, Ponder moved the offense down the field with his arm and his legs and Rudolph said he made a lot of believers despite being in "garbage time."

"I was very impressed with the way he came in the last two series at Chicago and took command of the offense," Rudolph said. "Obviously, everyone knows he's very intelligent. As far as X's and O's, he's very bright. He brings a lot to this team."

Ponder said he hasn't had time to develop a favorite receiver yet, but he acknowledged a strong recent history with Rudolph.

"I think Kyle Rudolph, he is a guy that I have had chemistry with before I stepped into this building and in the preseason together, and he has shown a lot throughout these games," Ponder said. "I'm sure at some point I will develop some sort of favorite."

The move to Ponder makes sense, especially given that the best the Vikings could hope to finish – barring a complete implosion by the Lions – is third in the NFC North. With Frazier in the first year as a full-time head coach, he has a window of opportunity in case Ponder struggles early. But Rudolph said the best elixir for what ails the Vikings may be an infusion of Ponder.

"He's going to bring that excitement and that spark," Rudolph said. "He's going to do everything he can to help this team win. At the end of the day, that's what we're all here to do – anything we can to help this team win."

Rudolph clearly has a stake in Ponder succeeding. As members of the rookie class of 2011, which got denied the chance to incorporate themselves into teams during the post-draft/minicamp phase of normal offseasons, Rudolph said he has a vested interest in Ponder succeeding. As a result, he expects to catch every pass thrown his way in order to help the new-look Vikings offense succeed.

"That's my goal," Rudolph said. "Any time I'm targeted or any time the ball comes my way, (I'm looking) to make a play. I go out every day to prepare and take advantage of that opportunity.

"I'm going to do everything I can to help Christian," Rudolph said. "That's the way I prepare every week. Everyone hears the saying that a tight end is a quarterback's best friend. If we can do anything we can to take the pressure off him and to make things easier, that in turn is going to help our team win and that's what we're out here for."

To listen to the local and national media, you would think the Vikings are 25-point dogs like the Gophers are at home against Nebraska Saturday. Rudolph believes that the perception may play into the Vikings' hands. With the bar lowered to the point that Vikings fans are clinging to the hope of the future rather than the malaise of the present, Ponder may be the answer they're looking for – despite long odds against them in their house on Sunday afternoon.

"I think people should expect to see Christian do well," Rudolph said. "There's not a whole lot of pressure on him. We're going against the best team in the league. He feels that way and he feels like he's just going to go out and perform. Coach Musgrave and Coach Frazier are going to put him in good situations and he will take advantage of that."


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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\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":" The ascent of Christian Ponder may serve a dual purpose for the Vikings in both the short-term and long-term. As he becomes the Vikings' starting quarterback, he brings his best friend on the team – second-round rookie TE Kyle Rudolph – with him. While other players hemmed and hawed about whether it was justified to send a veteran like Donovan McNabb to the bench, Rudolph is embracing the opportunity to be part of the post-chrysalis phase of Ponder's flight into Vikings lore. The Vikings have only drafted two quarterbacks in the first round in their history prior to Ponder. Daunte Culpepper threw a pass his rookie. Tommy Kramer started carving out his legend in 1977 – his rookie year – after Fran Tarkenton's ironman streak ended Nov. 13 and Bob Lee managed just 20 points in his first two starts in relief of Tark. On Dec. 4, Kramer came off the bench and rallied the Vikings with three fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 28-27 win over the 49ers. Even with his heroics, Kramer didn't become the full-time starter until 1979. In many ways, Ponder is breaking new ground for the Vikings. He has the chance to start 10 games in his rookie season and potentially be a fixture in the Vikings starting lineup. When the minimal window of opportunity of opportunity presented itself draft weekend, Ponder reached out to Rudolph. As a general rule, Florida State guys and Notre Dame guys have a mutual disdain for one another. Ponder stuck out his hand and Rudolph accepted in the spirit intended. Rudolph and Ponder have been tight as rusty lug nuts ever since. He and Ponder will have their first chance to see significant playing time together Sunday and Rudolph said this is just the tip of the iceberg. \"Hopefully, it will be that way for years to come,\" Rudolph said. \"Since the Friday I was drafted, he called me and said we'll be together for a long time.\" There is no question that Rudolph is all in on the change at quarterback. He realizes that he and Ponder are the next generation of a Vikings franchise in transition. With Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin already in place, they have a foundation on which to build the offense. Rudolph said he knows he is ready and said nobody will put in more overtime work than Ponder to help elevate the Vikings back into the mix of Super Bowl contenders. Whether they get there or not, time will be the final judge. But Rudolph said Ponder is up for the challenge. \"I feel that Christian brings hard work, effort and a lot of determination to succeed,\" Rudolph said. \"As (head coach Leslie) Frazier said, it's time for a change and they make the decision.\" Rudolph has no doubt that the decision to start Ponder is in the best interests of the team – both in the short-term and long-term. He isn't being thrown to the lions, but he's ready to be a gladiator. \"I think Christian is ready because of his preparation,\" Rudolph said. \"Since Day One at training camp when we went out to practice and everyone knew Donovan was the starter, Christian didn't approach it that way. He went about his business as if he was the starter and each week he prepared as if he was the starter. He showed that when he came in the game at Chicago. The offense didn't miss a beat. He's going to take advantage of this opportunity.\" When Ponder started warming up on the sidelines Sunday night late in the third quarter, it was an opportunity for the Vikings coaching staff to see what he could do. If he failed miserably, it would be easy to say they just gave him a taste of live action and would return to McNabb. But, while he didn't produce any points, Ponder moved the offense down the field with his arm and his legs and Rudolph said he made a lot of believers despite being in \"garbage time.\" \"I was very impressed with the way he came in the last two series at Chicago and took command of the offense,\" Rudolph said. \"Obviously, everyone knows he's very intelligent. As far as X's and O's, he's very bright. He brings a lot to this team.\" Ponder said he hasn't had time to develop a favorite receiver yet, but he acknowledged a strong recent history with Rudolph. \"I think Kyle Rudolph, he is a guy that I have had chemistry with before I stepped into this building and in the preseason together, and he has shown a lot throughout these games,\" Ponder said. \"I'm sure at some point I will develop some sort of favorite.\" The move to Ponder makes sense, especially given that the best the Vikings could hope to finish – barring a complete implosion by the Lions – is third in the NFC North. With Frazier in the first year as a full-time head coach, he has a window of opportunity in case Ponder struggles early. But Rudolph said the best elixir for what ails the Vikings may be an infusion of Ponder. \"He's going to bring that excitement and that spark,\" Rudolph said. \"He's going to do everything he can to help this team win. At the end of the day, that's what we're all here to do – anything we can to help this team win.\" Rudolph clearly has a stake in Ponder succeeding. As members of the rookie class of 2011, which got denied the chance to incorporate themselves into teams during the post-draft/minicamp phase of normal offseasons, Rudolph said he has a vested interest in Ponder succeeding. As a result, he expects to catch every pass thrown his way in order to help the new-look Vikings offense succeed. \"That's my goal,\" Rudolph said. \"Any time I'm targeted or any time the ball comes my way, (I'm looking) to make a play. I go out every day to prepare and take advantage of that opportunity. \"I'm going to do everything I can to help Christian,\" Rudolph said. \"That's the way I prepare every week. Everyone hears the saying that a tight end is a quarterback's best friend. If we can do anything we can to take the pressure off him and to make things easier, that in turn is going to help our team win and that's what we're out here for.\" To listen to the local and national media, you would think the Vikings are 25-point dogs like the Gophers are at home against Nebraska Saturday. Rudolph believes that the perception may play into the Vikings' hands. With the bar lowered to the point that Vikings fans are clinging to the hope of the future rather than the malaise of the present, Ponder may be the answer they're looking for – despite long odds against them in their house on Sunday afternoon. \"I think people should expect to see Christian do well,\" Rudolph said. \"There's not a whole lot of pressure on him. We're going against the best team in the league. He feels that way and he feels like he's just going to go out and perform. 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