When Leslie Frazier announced Monday rather matter-of-factly that Christian Ponder would be the starter Thursday against Washington, it raised questions about whether the Josh Freeman experiment had been scuttled after UFO sightings (Uncatchable Football Overthrows) in New Jersey were precariously close to The Mercury Theatre's War of the Worlds II.
Matt Cassel was his first legitimate competition. Josh Freeman was his first legitimate threat. Suddenly, Ponder wasn't juggling three bowling pins. He was juggling five. That's never easy.
Frazier gave Ponder yet another vote of confidence Tuesday.
"Christian knows from me that we want him to succeed. He has no reason to look over his shoulder and say if this happens negative, like an interception on Sunday against (Washington), you're going to be pulled, or sack-fumble in the end zone you're going to be pulled," Frazier said. "He doesn't have to worry about that. He has to worry about playing well. That's all he has to worry about."
Ponder was asked if he views himself as the long-term franchise quarterback of the Vikings. Apparently, those who expected a negative answer ("I see myself as a David Klingler type") were disappointed.
"I know I can," Ponder said. "Obviously, my play will determine that on the field and I have to play better. But my future right now is this game, and hopefully once I have a good game Thursday, that will play out itself. I understand that we have eight games left in this regular season to do so."
Despite assurances from Leslie Frazier that he doesn't have to look over his shoulder at Freeman, Ponder was holding the company line despite being asked whether he viewed Freeman as everyone else does. You need to take the previously-owned car out for a test drive before you plunk down your money and make a significant investment. It would appear it's not if, but when, Freeman gets his chance to run rich with the throttle down on the Vikings offense.
It makes sense. Whether it comes this week, next week or the week after, despite a cagey private game plan, it would seem Ponder is on a seven-day contract – in this case a four-day contract – to put up or shut up.
"I don't focus on it," Ponder said. "It's been great to have Josh in the room. He's a good guy to be around. He's another guy that brings a lot of knowledge to the game and it only helps me out. I understand it's a competition, and it's been a competition all year with Matt (Cassel) being here. So I'm not worried about it. I'm focused on increasing my play. I'm competitive against myself as much as those guys. I understand I've got to keep getting better. I want to make sure that everyone's confident that I'm the guy out there that needs to be playing."
A breakdown of that quote is telling. Ponder was reminded throughout the offseason, training camp and the start of the regular season that Cassel was viewed as a legitimate threat to his status as the franchise quarterback.
Ponder was asked to define what a franchise quarterback is and was quick to use book smarts to respond, but, in the process, laid out the prosecutor's case that could be used against him.
"I think it's a multitude of things," Ponder said. "I think it's a long-term quarterback – a big part of the offense leading teams to wins. I think if you're not leading teams to wins you're not going to be there very long. You've got to win a lot of games and you've got to be that guy who's there for a long time."
After Thursday's game, the Vikings will go back to their typical schedule of a Wednesday start of the official work week. As such, the press conferences conducted in the fieldhouse at Winter Park will be Frazier and the starting quarterback. In a shortened work week, Wednesday became Tuesday. Ponder, as the starting quarterback, had his time at the microphone. How long will that continue? Ponder hopes it's for awhile, but he knows now that he is swimming with the sharks.
"I think I fully trust my ability and everything that's going on and I believe we made the playoffs last year," Ponder said. "Obviously this year has been a little tougher but I believe in what I can do and expect that things will work out."
Given the Freeman workout doesn't work out.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Frazier gives Ponder vote of confidence
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