Christian Ponder is getting his first initiation into a full offseason program in the NFL and he found out from film review that there are plenty of improvements he would like to make.
Last year, Ponder was in the unique situation of being drafted No. 12 overall by the Minnesota Vikings, meeting his new coaches and then told he couldn't have any more contact with them until the NFL lockout was over. As it turned out, the lockout wiped out the entire offseason program – conditioning, organized team activities and minicamps – until just before training camp was set to open in late July.
Ponder worked out for a few weeks in May and June at IMG Academies in Florida, then returned to Minnesota to work out with Larry Fitzgerald, Jr. and other NFL and college players at the University of Minnesota campus. This time around, there is more structure, film study and, soon, there will be an integration of the new offensive components.
Still, Ponder is keeping the focus on himself and the mistakes that predictably occurred with his rookie initiation into an NFL offense.
"Just seeing myself on film, there's so much I can do better. I get so frustrated watching myself last year, watching myself escape from the pocket too early, making bad reads and doing pretty dumb stuff," Ponder said Wednesday. "You just watch that stuff and it gives me so much more confidence that I can be so much better next year. There's so much to learn from. It's just good to be with the coaches and see what they see and talk over things after being a couple months removed from the season."
Ponder talked at the end of last year about the rollercoaster ride of his rookie season. During some games, the promise was there. Others, he looked like a rookie struggling to catch up with reading defenses and understanding what throws could be made into certain coverages.
After spending the first six games watching veteran acquisition Donovan McNabb flounder, Ponder was inserted into the starting lineup. Two times he had a quarterback rating exceeding 100, but both of those instances came in his first six games of action. Five of his final six performances produced a passer rating of 75 or lower.
On the whole, he had the same number of interceptions as touchdowns – 13 – and took 30 sacks in a season that produced a 70.1 passer rating.
This year, with a full offseason and more playmakers surrounding him – as well as first-round left tackle Matt Kalil – he is hoping for better things.
"I've got a copy of the playbook to just brush up on stuff," Ponder said. "We can't take part in (the rookie camp this weekend), but it's just good to get all the work in and try to keep establishing myself as a leader in these limited workouts that we have."
Last year, Ponder got his playbook during the one-day respite from the lockout, but after that he wasn't allowed any contact with the coaches.
Even though some changes are being made to the offense this year, Ponder will be ahead of his 2011 learning curve. Back then, he was shipped off and unable to communicate with coaches for nearly three months while the labor impasse festered. Now, even if workouts with position coaches and coordinators on the field haven't commenced, he is able to go through conditioning, watch film and throw to some of his new weapons.
He's already taken advantage of that opportunity and gotten to know veteran additions like tight end John Carlson and receiver Jerome Simpson. He will have to wait on Percy Harvin, who is recovering from shoulder surgery.
But, while the Vikings enter the second year under offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, there will be changes to the offensive scheme, too.
"They've kind of done a lot in the offseason to change things up. They're kind of re-teaching us the offense right now," Ponder said. "I haven't put in too much (input) asking for certain stuff. We'll see as the OTAs develop and we get into the minicamp and all that stuff, we'll see how it develops."
In the meantime, Ponder's workouts to this point have had a visible effect. He looks stronger, but he isn't satisfied.
"Right now I have a lot of things to improve upon, a lot of work I can get done in the weight room. Obviously I had some injuries last year that I can help, try to help myself not get injured next year," he said. "(I'm) doing a lot of stuff in the weight room, doing a lot of stuff in the training room, doing yoga. I do a lot of stuff to prepare myself to be in the best physical shape as possible for this coming season."
But, in addition to avoiding injuries, the mental part of the game and learning not to panic in the pocket may be the biggest strides he needs to take in his second NFL season.
"Obviously quarterback, and football in general, is such a mental game," he said. "So to be able to watch film and meet with the coaches helps a lot."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Ponder finds plenty of areas to improve
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