Not many Vikings fans expected former Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder to be the team's first-round choice in last April's NFL Draft, and even fewer figured he'd start more games (nine) than six-time Pro Bowler Donovan McNabb (six).
But that was indeed the case, as the ex-Seminole completed 54.3 percent of his passes for 1,853 yards with 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 11 games. While the 6-2, 229-pounder certainly dealt with his fair share of growing pains as a rookie, as the injury bug that bit him in Tallahassee on more than one occasion found him once again in Minnesota, he remains the QB of the future after McNabb got pink-slipped midseason -- the athletic Joe Webb is most likely a backup at best.
The Vikings are in rebuilding mode following a 3-13 campaign, no question about it, but coach Leslie Frazier liked what he saw from Ponder more often than not.
"I thought he did a good job for us," Frazier said after Wednesday's practice at the Senior Bowl, where he and his staff are coaching the South team. "He had his ups and downs as the season went on. He got banged up a little bit. But, like a lot of rookies, he pulled through some things, and for us we think he has a chance to grow as a quarterback. We're glad he got the opportunity to start as many games as he did because we think that's really going to help us going forward, that he'll have that to really build on and grow from. Now that he'll have a full offseason, we think that the sky's the limit for Christian. We're excited about him."
Because of the lockout this past offseason, Ponder didn't have the benefit of any minicamps or OTAs to get prepared for his first taste of life in the NFL, plus McNabb was signed in free agency and expected to be the starter.
And then when McNabb was benched and Ponder did get his chance to play, he spent the majority of his time running for his life behind an ineffective offensive line and was forced to do it without the services of a fully healthy Adrian Peterson -- the All-Pro ran for a career-low 970 yards in 12 games and tore his ACL in Week 16 -- in the backfield on a weekly basis.
"It's tough," said Frazier, answering a question about what it was like to evaluate Ponder with the rest of the team falling apart around him. "It's tough because [of] all those reasons you mentioned. But he did enough things, especially early on when he began starting, that you knew that this guy has a chance to really lead our football team to great success. The game he had against Green Bay, the game he had against Carolina, those were big-time games and we were in those games. And we won the Carolina game as much because of him as anything we did as a team. So he gave us indications that he can really be a solid thrower for a long time in this league, but the other factors really affected him overall."
The Colleyville, Texas, native threw for 219 yards with two TDs in a 33-27 loss to the then-undefeated Packers in Week 7, and then in Week 8 he racked up 236 yards and a score through the air in a 24-21 win over the Panthers.
When asked whether better blocking up front or extra weapons at the skill positions was the best way to get more out of his signal caller in 2012, Frazier didn't tip his hand.
"Well, we want to do both," he said. "We want to get him better protection, but we also want to get him more weapons outside. We're going to try to address both."
According to VikingUpdate.com publisher Tim Yotter, with Frazier currently holding the No. 3 pick in this April's draft, he would be wise to go with USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil in order to take care of Ponder's blind side.
John Crist is the editor-in-chief of NoleDigest.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Football Writers Association of America.
Frazier supportive of Ponder at QB
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