Every NFL coach wants his quarterback to be intelligent, but is there such a thing as a quarterback that is too intelligent?
When he's thinking too much, or even too quickly, and not acting on his initial analysis, defenders can take advantage of the hesitant ones. According to a couple of recent interviews, Christian Ponder's brain might be too far ahead of his feet and his right arm.
"He's very intelligent. He understands the game great, and sometimes it's like paralysis by analysis," quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson told the team's website in the offseason. "He'll go back, he'll see the defense. He knows I'm supposed to go one, two, three (with his reads) and he's got to number three at the top of his drop. When his feet are talking (that) I should be at the top of my progression but his brain is already at the third progression, sometimes that happens with a guy that understands the game so well. And then as you get older it slows down."
Call it what you want: Paralysis by analysis, happy feet or failure to pull the trigger quickly enough. Eventually, Ponder will have to get over that or move over for another quarterback.
He's in his third season, which is also his third season in coordinator Bill Musgrave's offense. Quicker results and increased expectations with young NFL quarterbacks these days might not be fair to everyone, but it's the way of the modern-day NFL and the Vikings need Ponder to perform better than his quarterback rating (81.2) of last year says he did.
Receiver Greg Jennings has spent some of his four months in Minnesota tweaking his former quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, while defending Ponder, his current one that has yet to even throw Jennings a preseason pass.
Jennings likely has no idea what Johnson said about Ponder, but the receiver essentially reiterated the quarterback coach's line of thinking: Ponder is intelligent, but he's got to quit thinking too much and start doing at some point.
"He's very, very smart. He's one of those guys you kind of look at him and you're kind of like, ‘Yeah, he knows what he's doing.' But then you watch him and he does it sometimes. And then sometimes you see that he doesn't really trust his own self," Jennings said.
Player after player can relay stories of Ponder's intelligence. In fact, one of the first teammates to tout his intelligence might be a surprise to some, given their recent history. Percy Harvin said in the latter stage of 2011 that Ponder knew the playbook better in his rookie season than veteran Donovan McNabb did at the time. Eventually, McNabb was benched in favor of Ponder and then released.
The academic trail is further proof of the intelligence.
Ponder graduated from Florida State after just 2½ years in May of 2008 with a Bachelor of Science degree in finance, compiling a 3.7 undergraduate GPA; then completed his MBA two years later with another 3.7 GPA. He was a two-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference Academic Football (2008-09) team member, was a recipient of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame's Scholar-Athlete Awards. He was named to the All-Region III academic team, was a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award and was a candidate for CoSIDA Academic All-American and won the James Tatum Award as the top senior student-athlete in ACC football.
On the football field, however, the best quarterbacks would sometimes rather read a defense than read a book. Ponder brought several books to training camp, and his intelligence and desire to achieve should be applauded. But he has to be prepared for the pop quizzes on the field one play after another and willing to let it fly.
It can't be easy being an NFL quarterback. Many have tried, but few are elite – the scrutiny of the position has caused more talented ones to fold.
"There is so much pressure put on a quarterback to perform and we need our quarterback to perform well," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "It will help the rest of our team, but we also need the guys around him to perform well."
To that end, the front office bolstered the weapons around Ponder, trading away the volatile Percy Harvin, whose relationship with Ponder certainly appeared to sour over the last year. In his place, exciting rookie Cordarrelle Patterson was added, along with Jennings, the reliable veteran.
Jennings has made it clear in the last few months that he immensely enjoyed playing with the ultimate gunslinger, Brett Favre, and not so much the follow-up to Favre in Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers. As for Ponder, Jennings has offered support but also a touch of insight on his newer, less experience passer.
"He knows what to do. He knows how to do it. It's just about trusting himself and just doing it," Jennings said. "Sometimes as a young guy you lean to whatever everybody else is telling you to do versus doing what you know is right. And that's kind of how I've seen Christian kind of perform. He does what every coach and every guy wants him to do. But Christian has to be Christian. Whether everyone likes it or not, Christian has to be Christian."
We couldn't agree more. If Ponder filters out the noise and takes a calculated, successful shot every once in a while, he can silence the critics. If the mind overtakes the body too much, eventually it will be Ponder who is filtered out.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Sunday slant: Ponder too smart for own good?
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