The Golden Boy could be accused of being a lucky charm for two local sports teams, and as he was being interviewed by Vikings play-by-play announcer and host of KFAN's 9-to-noon "pro-grum" Paul Allen, the topics ranged. The discussion got to some of the pressing questions facing the 2013 edition of the Vikings.
While topic of gut feelings in the final disposition of Percy Harvin was (intentionally or not) danced around like a splashy MGM musical, the focus was on how the Vikings made the jump from the outhouse to a floor close to the penthouse in one year. Ponder said the reason was that, whether intended or not, when the Vikings went on their Logan's Run blood purge of just about everyone over the age of 30 and it brought the new-look team together.
"I think we saw an age shift where we got rid of some of the older players and brought in a lot of young players," Ponder said. "We saw a lot of the rookies that we drafted last year contribute this year. There are a lot of very similar guys with the right attitudes that share a lot of the same interests – No. 1 being winning football games. The chemistry, I thought, last year was awesome. I think everyone enjoys being around each other. Not only are we working together every day in practice, but everyone likes to hang out with each other off the field. That's always a good sign."
With the Vikings looking to add depth at the receiver position – Harvin or no Harvin – Allen referenced one of the Vikings' biggest draft-day misses of all time. Those who were there still curse the name Troy Williamson. The Vikings got the seventh overall pick in the draft in exchange for Randy Moss and Williamson was the result. Few casual knew who he was, but he blew up at the NFL Scouting Combine, displaying rare speed that vaulted him up the Vikings draft board. The failure of that pick was epic.
Ponder was asked about the combine process and the players that "come out of nowhere" to go from obscurity to the first round of the draft thanks to an eye-popping combine performance. He made the distinction between athletic talent and football acumen that often plays into the "reach pick."
"There are always good athletes, but a good athlete doesn't necessarily make a good football player," Ponder said. "Obviously, a lot of the scouts love seeing certain numbers – a fast 40 or 30-something reps on the bench – but that doesn't transfer to good technique or the right technique on the field. I guess if you assume you have the right coaching to be able to help a good athlete become a good football player, then go for it."
Ponder maintained his loyalty to general manager Rick Spielman. After Allen suggested the Vikings should use their first two draft picks on wide receivers to give Ponder the weapons he may need in a post-Harvin offense, Ponder said the Vikings will look to continue the building process – whether that means drafting receiver help early, in the middle rounds or late in the draft.
"I've heard it's a pretty deep draft," Ponder told Allen. "I think Spielman is going to do a great job with whatever we end up picking, I think it's going to be a lot like what happened last year – these guys came in and contributed early."
Whether Harvin returns or not, one thing that seemed apparent is that Ponder is a fan of Jerome Simpson and hopes the playmaking receiver is brought back in 2014. Sounding almost like a Simpson apologist, Ponder accentuated the positive when describing what Simpson brings to the table for the Vikings offense.
"I think if Jerome does come back, having a second year in this offense will really help him," Ponder said. "What he did in the preseason, through training camp and even towards the end of the year, we've seen his potential. He's a heck of a player. I think a lot of people don't understand that this was his first year in this offense. He was in Cincinnati for a few years. An NFL offense is complex. It takes time to learn it. We didn't sign him until later in the offseason, so he didn't have a whole lot of time to be able to learn everything. I think a second year will only help him and he's got the potential to be a great player."
Playing devil's advocate, Allen asked Ponder if he would feel personally dissed if the Vikings drafted a quarterback early in the draft.
On Tuesday, Ponder had the golden touch for local Minnesota sports teams. From the sounds of things, he's ready to go with whatever supporting cast he has into the 2013 Vikings season. Fortunately for him, he's got a motivated No. 28 looking to gain nine more yards that will make his job markedly easier.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for 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.