From the outset of the Minnesota Vikings' offseason program, Christian Ponder has taken a critical eye on his rookie season.
"We watched a lot of stuff from last year. Just seeing myself on film, there's so much I can do better," the Vikings quarterback said last month as offseason conditioning started. "I get so frustrated watching myself last year, watching myself escape from the pocket too early, making bad reads and doing pretty dumb stuff. 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."
ESPN Ron Jaworksi, with his big appetite for film study of quarterbacks, was actually easier on Ponder than the quarterback himself. However, while Jaworski's comments accentuated Ponder's strengths, the analyst still ranked Ponder No. 28 among NFL quarterbacks in the 30-part "Jaws' QB Countdown" series.
"Ponder has many of the attributes I look for when I evaluate quarterbacks. I saw pocket movement, the ability to move within the pocket, maintain downfield focus and deliver the football with accuracy," Jaworski said. "I also saw the added dimension of getting outside the pocket in response to pressure with the speed to create an explosive gain."
Ponder finished 30th in the NFL in passer rating at 70.1, but his athleticism to run out of the pocket became a double-edged sword. It got him out of trouble often behind a sometimes shaky offensive line and he averaged 7.8 yards on 28 carries, but it also may have led to too much running and not enough time in the pocket improving on his ability to read defenses.
"As he begins his second season, Ponder needs work as a progression reader. He had a tendency to predetermine some throws, and, in addition, there were too many times he did not recognize the coverage," Jaworski said, referencing a specific play against the Oakland Raiders. "His primary read was Percy Harvin on a corner route from the slot. The half-field safety was sitting right there, settled, looking back at Ponder. As a quarterback, you have to be aware of that. That's part of the learning curve for Ponder. I love his skill set. It's good enough to move in my top 20, but mistakes, especially in the scoring territory, will always have a negative impact on my ranking. I expect Ponder to improve significantly this season."
So does the quarterback himself. He has attended every organized team activity this offseason and arranged to throw with new receiver Jerome Simpson and others before players were allowed to officially practice under the guidance of coaches.
"I think just being in the system a whole lot, getting that experience last year, being able to watch myself on film and spending all the time before all the OTAs started with all these guys, building the chemistry, getting on the same page, it's just got a whole different feel to it," Ponder said last week. "Everyone, including myself, is just so much more comfortable and confident in what we're doing."
Jaworski's series concentrates on the league's starting quarterbacks "and Tim Tebow," whom Jaworkski had at the bottom of his top 30. Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert, who was drafted two spots before Ponder at No. 10, checked at No. 29 on Jaworski's rankings.
Ponder admits that "looking back at last year it wasn't very good," but he is also looking forward with optimism.
"We did a lot of good things, but we can do so much better, getting everyone a lot more comfortable with what we're doing. Even having coach (Bill) Musgrave, it was his first year as an offensive coordinator. Him being more comfortable, understanding what guys can or can't do, it's going to be a lot more efficient and this year's going to be a ton of improvement. I think it's going to be a world of difference for sure."
For his part, Jaworski sees some attributes to build upon.
"There was much to like about Ponder but also much to be cleaned up as he looks to improve upon an uneven rookie year," Jaworski said. "Two things stood out in his first start. First, his ability in the boot-action pass game. Ponder throws the ball very well on the run; second, his pocket toughness. He was willing to look down the gun barrel and deliver the ball in the face of pressure."
For Ponder, being "comfortable" and "confident" are key words he continues to emphasize this offseason for himself and his offensive teammates. That's an ongoing process as the Vikings wrap up organized team activities on Thursday and prepare for the final set of practices with next week's three-day minicamp.
"They're throwing a lot of stuff at us right now and kind of seeing what sticks with the offense," he said. "The more we digest it and get on the field and practice it, the better we're all going to be."
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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