With the start of training camp a little more than a month away, the Vikings are fielding many of the same questions that were posed a year ago. Primary among those is whether Christian Ponder is going to take the next step in his maturation as an NFL quarterback.
One of Ponder's strongest proponents has been general manager Rick Spielman, who was instrumental in drafting Ponder to the Vikings. Appearing Sunday morning on 1500 ESPN Radio in the Twin Cities, Spielman said that Ponder has continued to work on the momentum he gained late last season.
"The way he ended the season last year – playing well through those last four games, especially that last game (of the regular season) against Green Bay – I think you saw that carry over into the offseason program," Spielman said. "We do have a young team. (Ponder) is only going to be in his third year, yet you can see him being one of the older guys who has taken over as a leader on this team."
The Vikings made a concerted effort to add more weapons at wide receiver, signing veteran free agent Greg Jennings and drafting speed receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. While those are the marquee names brought in to replace Percy Harvin, Spielman was quick to point out that the Vikings have returning talent to augment the new players and could make wide receiver a strength rather than a weakness.
"That was one of our targeted positions," Spielman said. "We started that last year in the secondary. This year we really wanted to really emphasize on getting more weapons around Christian Ponder. The two other receivers you can't forget are Jarius Wright and his development, where he is right now and how he finished the season last year in that slot position, and a healthy Jerome Simpson."
Spielman theorized that Ponder's maturation in the system and the upgrades at receiver might not have been possible if not for the Harvin saga that played out late last season and resulted in him being traded to Seattle.
"I think we're going to have a pretty decent amount of weapons for Christian to develop," Spielman said. "But a lot of that probably couldn't have happened if we were not able to trade Percy Harvin."
In the end, it will be up to Ponder to make the jump to the next level of NFL quarterbacks, but, from what Spielman has seen in the offseason program, he is making those strides.
"I think the overall command and presence he has, you can see the confidence there – the body language, taking charge even more in the locker room and in the meetings," Spielman said. "He's really starting to express himself as a leader."
All eyes will be on Ponder when the Vikings start training camp next month, and as he enters his third season Ponder is expected to make the jump in comprehension and improvement that typically separate decent quarterbacks from the good ones and good ones from great ones. Ponder is still a work in progress, but, behind the scenes, the Vikings are seeing those improvements.
"Last year when he wasn't playing very well in the mid-point of the season and to come back out of that, you started to see that maturity and started to see signs of what we believe we're going to see this next year," Spielman said.
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.
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