Teammates see a different Ponder this time

Maybe some time away from the limelight did Christian Ponder some good. That's what his offensive teammates are indicating after seeing him working as the starter again on Wednesday.

The quiet Christian in the huddle could be a thing of the past.

Christian Ponder has learned a lesson in being benched, he and his teammates say, and he is taking a new approach with a fresh chance to be a starter once again.

Josh Freeman's concussion-like symptoms have created an opening and Ponder, the starting quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings in the first three games, intends on making the most of it.

"Obviously it swung away from me. It swings back and it's time to grab ahold of it and not let it swing away from me again," Ponder said.

To that end, Ponder says he is more relaxed in the huddle. His teammates agree. But they also believe he is taking charge, too.

"The last couple weeks, he's had a great attitude," tight end Kyle Rudolph said. "We were joking around, saying he is a completely different person. Being able to step back and look at things, all the pressure was off. He's really grown in the last couple weeks. We feel like he was a completely different person out at practice (Wednesday).

"Just (his) attitude, having fun, being that leader that we've always wanted in a quarterback. He's kind of taken the reins and he's ready to go."

Receiver Greg Jennings believes that taking a step back may have helped Ponder, as much as no player ever wants to be benched. He, too, intimated the off-the-field difference could be Ponder's biggest transformational factor.

"It's all about being a professional," Jennings said. "Any time you have to take a back seat, any time you have to sit down for a minute, it gives you a chance to reflect. I think he's done that. He's seen how important it is to play at a high level, but even more importantly, how important that position is to the overall success of the team and what it takes to hold that position.

"It's not just about your quarterback play. It's about how you lead off the field and on the field."

When Matt Cassel took over for Ponder after three losses to start the season, Jennings said there was more command of the huddle from the quarterback position.

That could be rubbing off on Ponder in his second chance this season.

"He's taken a great approach to practice," Rudolph said. "Having those two weeks to kind of sit back, all the pressure was off. You can learn a lot of things when something is taken away from you. He was able to kind of sit back and things were put into perspective for him."

Last year, coaches and teammates pointed to Ponder's final four games as alleged proof that he had improved. The best performance of his career was the regular-season finale against the Green Bay Packers.

In that game at the Metrodome, Ponder completed 16 of 28 passes for 234 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions and a career-high 120.2 passer rating.

Rudolph cited the game plan for the Vikings' success in the win that got them into the playoffs. Now the Vikings are 1-5 facing a 4-2 Packers team.

"I think it will be easy for him to get back to that level. Us around him, we have to get back to that level," Rudolph said. "He's not the only one. You can't point the finger at him. It's not fair. It's all of us as a whole."

But Ponder was part of the problem with the Vikings' 0-3 start, although the defense was far too generous, the special teams had a meltdown game and the running game hasn't been as consistent as it was last year. Still, Ponder was the main fall guy, especially in the view of fans that booed him lustily in his final start in the Metrodome, a loss to the previously 0-2 Cleveland Browns.

He's taking a unique approach to coming back from his benching.

"It couldn't get any worse than that. That's probably fair to say," he said with a smile. "I think I was playing with a lot of pressure on myself before and never felt in sync. Now is the opportunity to take that deep breath and go out and have fun again. I already got benched, so it can't get worse than that."

While some were impressed with the commanding presence Cassel brought to the huddle when he was named the starter, others were impressed with the way Ponder handled his demotion.

There wasn't any public bickering from Ponder. He accepted it, even if he didn't like it, knowing his play and his rib injury were ultimately the deciding factors.

By not sulking, he gained a measure of respect from his teammates.

"Definitely. I've gotten that feeling from a lot of the guys on offense and the defense," Rudolph said. "Just talking to a few guys that saw the way he went about his business the last two weeks, it kind of got everybody fired up. We're excited that he has another opportunity. He's definitely prepared."

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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