Christian Ponder entered the Minnesota Vikings' nine-week offseason program panning his play last year after watching film.
After three weeks of organized team activities and the conclusion of the team's three-day minicamp Thursday, Ponder saw some progress, but he tempered it all by admitting that non-padded minicamp practices aren't also conducive to replicating regular-season games, especially when it comes to improving his pocket awareness.
"It's hard to (replicate a pass rush) in minicamp when there's no pads on everything. Kind of what I told myself is just stay in the pocket and work on moving around," Ponder said. "It's tough when they blow things dead so quickly. There's ways to work around it. I think it's gotten better, but we'll see once we get in the games. It's hard to tell now."
The improvement on first and second downs has come, Ponder said, and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has the proof. The goal for the 10 OTAs and three days of minicamp was to have Ponder completing 75 percent of his passes on the early downs.
"We've taken stats of it. We work on different situations, on some situations we work on first- and second-down passes. And we've kept track and Coach Musgrave does a summary of every day during OTAs of how we did, percentage passing and stuff like that," Ponder said. "We were right close to our mark, if not better. There definitely has been improvement."
Last year, Ponder completed 54 percent of his passes for 13 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 70.1 passer rating.
Ponder has also tried to improve the timing with his receivers, and many of them are new this year. Free-agent addition Jerome Simpson has been an offseason favorite. But there are others as well, including fourth-round picks Jarius Wright and Greg Childs. The better the chemistry with his passing weapons, the quicker the ball is out to end any concerns of the pocket collapsing.
Where and when Ponder is targeting the ball has improved, as well, according to head coach Leslie Frazier.
"One of the things that you try to evaluate with Christian is how is he making decisions, whether or not he's taking command of the huddle and taking command of our offense, how well is he learning some of the things that we're teaching conceptually for him at the quarterback position," Frazier said. "If you get some of those things taken care of now, once we get the pads on and we start doing a few more things from a live standpoint, then you can evaluate some other things. His arm strength, none of those things have changed. His accuracy, he's worked on that, he's improving that.
"But for us, the leadership, the command, this is what you can evaluate and judge during this period because we need that at that position. And how well he is really becoming with our offense and not having some of the glitches and the misreads that can cause you problems. There's some other things obviously that will come once we get to Mankato."
One thing Ponder didn't lose since the season ended is his ability to be tough on himself. Asked if he believed in a sophomore slump for NFL quarterbacks, he didn't back away from his self-assessment months ago.
"I think I had a freshman year slump last year. I don't think it can get any worse," he said. "I think it's all in your head. I've got a lot to improve on from last year, for sure. Again, there's really nowhere to go but up. And it will go up."
PONDER EXPECTING HARVIN
Receiver Percy Harvin participated in only two of the five minicamp practices (he didn't participate in either walk-through) as he worked through unspecified issues with the team.
"I don't know what the deal is. I'll do everything in my power to get him here (for training camp)," Ponder said.
"Take him out to dinner. Take him to a movie, something like that. Bowling. Couple dates or something."
However, Ponder, the Florida State alumnus, joked he would draw the line at wearing the jersey of Harvin's alma mater, the Florida Gators.
Like Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman, Ponder said he expected Harvin to be at training camp and said he and Harvin may even get together in Florida for a throwing session.
With a little over five weeks of a break until training camp starts – players report on July 26 with the first practice scheduled for July 27 – Ponder is preparing for a five-day vacation at Hilton Head, then going to Disney World with his 3-year-old niece.
In between now and training camp, he will also work on his conditioning, as he plans to attend the Larry Fitzgerald Jr. workouts at the University of Minnesota. After going from 212 pounds about two months ago to 233, adding mostly muscle mass, he is hoping to trim to just under 230 before the season.
"I've definitely put on weight. I've gotten bigger, gotten stronger. Try to keep my flexibility. There are a lot of different things we do flexibility-wise with the yoga," Ponder said before joking that he has been taking the offensive linemen to steakhouses too often.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Ponder still tough in self-assessment
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