The Vikings may be just four training camp practices into the 2013 season, but, to the surprise of nobody, all eyes are on quarterback Christian Ponder. After leading the Vikings to a 10-6 season, including four straight wins that were all needed for the Vikings to get into the playoffs, Ponder is under the microscope. If Minnesota is going to make the jump to the next level, much of the pressure will be on him to improve and become a team leader.
As is typically the case, most of the attention during practice is on the quarterback play, but head coach Leslie Frazier views it differently. While the coaching staff is occupied checking out the players who are competing for a roster spot, there isn't much difference in the way they evaluate their franchise quarterback compared to a player with little chance of making the final 53-man roster.
"From my standpoint, we're doing the same thing with him that we do with all of our players," Frazier said. "We'll take a look at every rep he takes, which is no different than what we do with every player. We'll evaluate his performance – whether he's doing something positive or negative. Hopefully, we'll have something to improve every single day he's out here."
Ponder understands the weight of the expectations that are being placed on his shoulders. Quarterbacks often get too much credit when a team wins and too much blame when a team loses. Ponder is using training camp to accentuate those things he does well and attempt to eliminate problem areas that have dogged him his first two seasons.
"(Being) a quarterback is about decision-making and accuracy," Ponder said. "For me, it's about getting more comfortable with the offense, making better decisions and working on my fundamentals – footwork from head to toe so I can throw the ball better."
Frazier wasn't always as bullish on Ponder. It was his recommendation that brought in Donovan McNabb in 2011 – a decision that was among his worst as head coach. Ponder had his rookie ups and downs and, despite being the unquestioned starter in 2012, continued that roller coaster of highs and lows in his second season. Until December. When the Vikings needed to run the table in December, Ponder was at his best and Frazier took notice.
"It was so encouraging at a moment where our team could have gone either way at that 6-6 juncture for him to step up and begin to make some crucial plays for us and take more of the reins from a leadership standpoint," Frazier said. "It really gave me more confidence about the future with him. We needed him to play well at that point in the season. You always need that from your quarterback in the month of December. He played at a very, very high level at a crucial time. It was really encouraging for all of us."
Ponder gained a lot of confidence from that experience. While he wasn't able to finish what he started – an injury sidelined him in the playoff game at Green Bay – he was impressed with how the team came together late in the season, beating Houston on the road to keep their playoff hopes alive and taking down the Packers in the regular season finale to earn a playoff berth. It was that Green Bay game that he hopes will be a springboard for the Vikings in 2013.
"For this whole team, it was a must-win game to get into the playoffs," Ponder said. "For a young team, I thought we showed a lot of maturity. For myself, it was finding that right balance of making plays downfield, checking the ball down and not trying to force things that aren't there. I was learning from those mistakes I made at midseason and it's something I want to carry on into this season."
Ponder isn't viewed as a great quarterback yet – a point that has been hammered home as Greg Jennings has been asked to make comparisons to his quarterbacks from his Green Bay past – but Ponder is looking to magnify his positives and eliminate his negatives. He's still a work in progress, but he hopes training camp and the preseason will continue his maturation process as an NFL quarterback and eventually get him mentioned among the NFL's elite young QBs.
"I want to get to that point," Ponder said. "I understand what I can do well and what others can do compared to myself. I want to be the best at what I can do and what I bring to the table. I'm finding that out as we go."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Ponder under the microscope
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