The numbers: Last year—3. Current count—4. Projection this year—3.
The candidates: McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder, James Vandenberg.
The locks: Ponder and Cassel.
The sleeper: Vandenberg can be considered the only sleeper, as he is the only quarterback on the roster that wasn't on it last year.
The longshot: This will be the only position breakdown that has the sleeper and longshot as the same player. Vandenberg wins this title, too, but unfortunately that's not a good thing.
The analysis: Ponder is the starter (unless injury or some drastic mistakes early in the regular season cause him to lose that distinction) and Cassel is the veteran backup/mentor that Ponder has never really had – Donovan McNabb didn't do much in that regard during his short and failed stay in Minnesota in 2011. This will be Cassel's fifth offensive scheme in six seasons, but he looked relatively comfortable during offseason practices this spring. The real question is with the third position, and all indications are that Bethel-Thompson and his strong arm should get another year of seasoning.
Christian Ponder: Ponder has what appears to be the unwavering backing of head coach Leslie Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman, and both have repeatedly pointed to Ponder's final four-game stretch of the 2012 regular season as proof of why they believe he is ready to take hold of the quarterback position for the foreseeable future. No doubt there are areas where Ponder has to improve (anticipating his receivers' breaks and getting rid of the ball sooner are two of them), and with a receiver corps that is finally up to NFL standards, this should be the third-year pro's make-or-break season. He has the supporting cast around him. It's his put-up-or-take-a-back-seat season.
Matt Cassel: Despite ESPN's Adam Schefter trying to advance the theory that Cassel could challenge for the starting job, it would take Ponder completely unraveling in the preseason for that to happen, and even then Frazier and Spielman might give Ponder a chance to self-correct in the first few games. Cassel was brought in as the clear backup and was told as much. The Vikings are paying him well to do that, and the performance of Joe Webb in the playoff game convinced them of the need to have an experienced backup. Cassel gives them some insurance, but there is a reason he was on the free-agent market: He didn't perform well last year in Kansas City (6 TDs, 12 INTs in nine games) and admitted it upon his arrival in Minnesota. Like Ponder, there is a bit of proving needed for Cassel, too.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson: He never had a chance to show what he could do in the regular season or playoffs in 2012, his first season with the Vikings, but with a strong arm and protypical quarterback body, there are assets to develop, making him the leading candidate to be the No. 3 man again this year. The advantage for him is that this is the first time in his short career that he has spent a full season (and now another offseason) with the same NFL team. It will be interesting to watch his progress in the preseason.
James Vandenberg: Unfortunately for the two-year starter from the Iowa Hawkeyes, he doesn't get a lot of reps in offseason or training camp practices and it's been a while since the Vikings had a quarterback on the practice squad. He has the stature of a quarterback, but after throwing 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions as a junior, he had only five touchdowns and six interceptions as a senior.
Roster projection: Ponder, Cassel, Bethel-Thompson.
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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