If ever there was a doubt about the importance of a good quarterback, look no further than the teams involved in the playoffs. Nine of the top 10 rated quarterbacks in the NFL made it to the postseason, meaning three-quarters of the playoff participants were led by high-caliber signal-callers.
Not surprisingly, none of top guns were rookies. Meanwhile, the Vikings spent the final 10 games of their season trying to get their rookie quarterback, Christian Ponder, up to par in an increasingly pass-happy league. Ponder finished as the 30th-ranked quarterback by passer rating (70.1), 29th by completion percentage (54.1) and tied for 26th in average gain per completion (6.4 yards).
Meanwhile, second-year quarterback Joe Webb provided some exciting times in his relief appearances of Ponder, bringing up the expected line of questions about who will enter next season as the starting quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings.
The answer, according to head coach Leslie Frazier, is that Ponder will enter the offseason practices as the team's No. 1 quarterback but there will be a competition during training camp.
"It's going to be interesting. We always pick one another up, have high spirits. We're great friends," Webb said. "So we're going to compete to the end, no matter what. Whether he's the starter and I'm coming for his spot or I'm the starter and he's coming for my spot, we're going to always compete. But we have fun with it."
With the NFL lockout of players in place last spring and summer, Ponder and Webb worked out together at the Madden Football Academy on the campus of IMG in Bradenton, Fla., where they were under the tutelage of former NFL quarterback Chris Weinke. During their weeks together there, Webb and Ponder developed a bond of friendship even while knowing they would be competing against each other back in Minnesota.
"We have become really close. Joe's a great guy, I love being around him and we're good friends, but we definitely have to compete against each other and we're going to have fun with it for sure," Ponder said.
This year will provide a different atmosphere. Ponder plans to spend a lot of time at Winter Park reviewing film, mostly of himself, and further immersing himself in coordinator Bill Musgrave's offense. Last year, Ponder received a playbook but couldn't work with Vikings coaches during the lockout that ended only days before training camp opened. When Ponder finally was suited up for practice in Minnesota, most of the effort from coaches was spent on getting veteran Donovan McNabb ready, which further slowed the development of Ponder.
He admitted he went through a roller coaster of learning stages, but the biggest lesson he learned is how much of an impact turnovers can have.
"In the NFL, number one, turnovers can change a game in a heartbeat," he said.
"The thing I'm most frustrated with is the turnovers. You never want to turn the ball over. I did it way too many times. Just got to get better from that. It's frustrating to put together drives, have points on the board but cost your team points because you turn the ball over. Those were very frustrating moments, and I'm sure the whole team was frustrated."
Despite only playing in 10 games, Ponder was tied with fellow rookie Andy Dalton and former Viking Tarvaris Jackson with 13 interceptions. Ponder ended up with a 4.5 interception percentage. Webb was at 3.2.
By all appearances, Ponder will be given every opportunity to win the starting job once again, but Webb's relief appearances showed once again that he can't be completely ruled out. His ability to escape pressure, something that was put to the test often with the Vikings' uneven pass protection, was something many marveled at during the final games of the season.
"A lot of people don't know it – I've been doing that all my life," Webb said. "A lot of people, I come to the sideline and it's ‘Hey, how you do that?' I'm like, ‘Do what?' I really don't see that, I guess because I can do those. I've been doing those types of things since high school. It ain't nothing new to me."
Webb ended up with 154 yards rushing on 22 attempts. As a passer, he completed 54 percent of his attempts for a 6.0-yard average – both marks slightly lower than Ponder – with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Whether that will be enough to make the competition with Ponder a legitimate one during the offseason remains to be seen. Webb will just keep working and hope he gets his chance.
"Who wouldn't like the No. 1 job? But I've got to work to get it. Christian is a good player, a good guy. A good guy to be around, a good guy to work with. We're going to have fun this offseason. We're going to compete with one another, but in a fun way," Webb said.
"I'm always competing. Even if I do win the QB spot, I'm still competing. You never have a stamp on your job. So I'm going to always compete no matter what."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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