The Minnesota Vikings have a new supporting cast for Christian Ponder, and a new and improved Ponder, according to coaches and players.
Percy Harvin is gone to Seattle; veteran Greg Jennings and rookie Cordarrelle Patterson are in. But, despite those important changes, the playbook hasn't changed much.
"Not a whole lot has changed. I think every year you add new plays and you try different things. Schematically, we haven't changed a whole lot," Ponder said. "We have guys like Jarius (Wright) and Cordarrelle that can fill in in what Percy did last year and make plays. And even Greg as well. Schematically, we're not doing a whole lot different."
However, teammates and coaches say Ponder is doing things differently.
Defensive end Jared Allen said he has talked to Ponder about becoming more of a leader and taking charge. Others say that has been happening over the last month of organized team activities and minicamp.
"I really like the way that he has matured mentally, just seeing how he has kind of taken the reins from a leadership standpoint. He's more vocal than he has been in the past," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "His football above the neck has been impressive in the time that we've been out here on the field practicing. He's got the athletic ability, but you want him to make good decisions under the center, and some of the things he's done in these practices kind of leads me to believe, along with our staff, that he's grown a lot in that area – making better decisions with the football, which should in turn help us down the line."
Last year, Ponder had an uneven season. His first two games produced completion percentages above 74 and passer ratings above 100. After going through his ups and downs for much of the season, he showed better consistency in the final four games of the season, throwing four touchdowns and one interception.
Not coincidentally, the Vikings went 4-0 in those games and have continued to point to his final month as evidence that he can be a franchise quarterback.
"For me, my (next) step is to overall be a better quarterback and what I've said is that it comes down to two things: decision-making and accuracy," Ponder said. "For me to help my decision-making, that's getting more experience in the OTAs, during practices, watching more film, getting more familiar with our offense, the ins and outs, and then also watching more film on defense, understand defensive schemes. Accuracy just comes down to all fundamentals. That's footwork and everything from head to toe."
Ponder said OTAs and minicamp have been a time to experiment with the offense and personnel packages and see what sticks.
He has also spent time getting used to his new receivers, and having them get used to him.
"I love him. I love his personality. I love his demeanor on the field," Jennings, the veteran of that group of receivers, said. "The one thing we talk about, and I've shared with him more than anything, is the trust factor. Because he has everything he needs – the skill sets, he has it. It's just about trusting the other guy. … It's just about trusting that we're going to be where he's knowing that we should be, and us trusting that he's going to have the ball where we know it should be. That's the one thing that kind of takes that split second off our timing. Other than that, once we develop that trust, and that comfort, the sky's the limit."
Still, Ponder's success will come down to him completing passes. Last year, he completed 62.1 percent and averaged 6.1 yards per attempt. His completion percentage was about in the middle of the league's 32 starters last year, but his yards per attempt were lowest.
Frazier believes Ponder will make improvements because the coach has seen a work ethic from his quarterback that is better than ever.
"I think he's much better. He's worked his tail off, trying to improve his accuracy," Frazier said. "Our coaches have put him through a bunch of different drills, and through his hard work, I think he's improved in that area. Now, we've got some things we've got to get done in training camp, but he's put in the work to improve, and we're seeing that."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings receivers have changed; has Ponder?
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