The on-field chemistry between Christian Ponder and Greg Jennings was a short-lived work in progress in the Minnesota Vikings' preseason opener.
However, when it comes to a quarterback and receiver, they may need the most work together because, according to Ponder and head coach Leslie Frazier, there are nuances in Jennings' route-running that make him unique.
"Just how he attacks leverage and stuff, he does a lot of movement with his body and his head, which is great. He does a great job of getting open. He's just a little different than when you watch him on film," Ponder said.
"For us, it's just the angles and how he comes out of cuts."
Jennings' route-running has been a discussion point that has received high praise from receivers and cornerbacks alike since the Vikings started offseason practices in May after signing Jennings to a five-year, $45 million contract.
Jennings and Ponder (along with most of the offensive starters) only got two snaps in Friday's preseason opener against the Houston Texans. Both of Ponder's passes were directed at Jerome Simpson, the first for a 15-yard gain, the second going for an interception as the ball bounced off Simpson's right hand.
Ponder never had a chance to target Jennings, but the two have been working for the last three months to find a rhythm with each other. Jennings' unique style has made that a little more of a task.
"He's not the typical route-runner. He does a lot of stemming in his routes. What I mean by that is if he wants to run an out route, for example, he's not just going to run straight up the field and break out. He's going to stem a defensive back inside to try to get his hips turned or try to get his feet out of whack and then he'll break outside," Frazier said. "And when he releases from press coverage, he's not a guy who is just going to release to you. He's going to do a lot of shaking at the line of scrimmage.
"So for a quarterback, you have to adjust to how he runs routes and how effective he is at getting it done because you don't want to change what he's done up to this point with the success he's had. As a quarterback, you've got to adjust to when he's going to get in and out of his routes and at what point is he going to break out of that route. So he's a great route-runner. He's great with the ball after he catches it. Our timing, I think in this training camp, has improved as Christian has got more comfortable and familiar with the way Greg runs his routes."
That will make the next two weeks of preseason games important for the new duo. The starters are expected to play into the second quarter at Buffalo Friday night, and then likely will play into the third quarter in the third preseason game.
But while they haven't connected yet in a game, there has been progress in practices. Jennings had a 5-yard reception on Ponder's first attempt during full-team work on Tuesday, and the two connected two more times in the limited work they received later in practice.
"We're a lot further along. Greg is a guy I can count on," Ponder said. "For us, it's just a matter of getting on the same page because he runs routes so much differently than everybody else. I think we're a lot more comfortable than we (were)."
The Vikings could use that improvement.
Last year, Ponder was 13th with a 62.1 completion percentage but 31st with 6.2 yards per attempt. He believes his accuracy on deep passes has improved during the three weeks of training camp.
"It was good. It was better than last year. I think there's still areas for improvement," he said. "Ever since the first day of spring, we've got the ball down the field more and that's exciting to see."
Frazier just sees a more confident, comfortable quarterback entering his third season.
"I can see him taking more control in the huddle, interacting more with other teammates other than just that small group of guys that he's comfortable with, and that's part of growing as a leader as well," Frazier said. "… These last few practices have been some of his best practices from a decision-making standpoint, along with how he's handled himself around the huddle. I've seen some growth and I'm looking forward to seeing how he plays on Friday night and just continuing to grow. But the growth and leadership is what's been impressive."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Ponder adjusting to Jennings' unique routes
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