Sunday slant: Injury list building for Ponder

Christian Ponder hasn't grabbed hold of his starting opportunity, but injuries are now complementing ineffectiveness on the negative side of his quarterback ledger. That should have been a big warning for the Vikings given his injury history in college, too.

As Kevin Williams continues in what could be his final month as a Viking, one of the most impressive statistics from a massively athletic big man is a simple one: availability.

In his 11-year career, Williams has missed only five games – two in 2005 for a knee injury, two in 2011 for the StarCaps controversy and the season opener this year with a knee injury. In total, Williams has played in 167 regular-season games and six playoff contests and missed only three due to injuries.

Christian Ponder could only wish to be so fortunate, both in productivity and durability. Already, he has surpassed Williams' mark for games missed and this calendar year has been his professional testament to struggles.

After gaining the starting job as a rookie in 2011, Ponder made it 10 straight games as a starter there and then started all 16 regular-season games in 2012, working through the typical aches and pains of an NFL quarterback.

Then, the warning signs of an NFL scout upon the Vikings drafting him came to fruition. In his third season, when he was supposed to take that next step forward and have his book smarts and innate athleticism all come together, his body fell apart.

It actually started at the end of the 2012 regular season, when a deep triceps bruise proved too painful to play through in his first (and only?) chance at the playoffs. The injury was legitimate, as the ugly bruising on his arm would testify the following week. As it turned out, that was just the beginning of the downhill slide.

Blame ineffectiveness all you want for him not being able to hold onto his starting job this year, but it has become clear head coach Leslie Frazier, a man with the patience of Job, wasn't going to be easily swayed off Ponder's possibilities for development.

Injuries, not Ponder's performance, might ultimately be as much to blame for the quarterback losing his starting spot – and it very well could be a permanent placement. While his pre-draft scouting report gushed about his intelligence and athletic ability, injuries are becoming more of a concern.

"Part of what we do for a living is availability, being on the field, and you definitely want your quarterback to be available, but things happen," Frazier said. "Guys get injured in our business and it's happened to him a few times."

The Vikings should have known this was a possibility, given his history at Florida State. They did plenty of their own scouting on him prior to the 2011 draft, but the first few paragraphs in the "overview" on his draft bio sent out the warning:

"One of the most highly acclaimed quarterback prospects in the nation entering his final season, Ponder must have felt like ‘Joe Btfsplk,' a character in the satirical comic strip Li'l Abner by cartoonist Al Capp, who had a small, dark rain cloud perpetually hovering over his head to symbolize his bad luck," the bio read.

"The hapless Ponder and his ever-present cloud was the result of a rash of injuries that sidelined him for long stretches during his last two seasons with the Seminoles. The talented passer started the first nine games of the 2009 campaign. He suffered a shoulder injury making a tackle in the Clemson clash, undergoing surgery that forced him to miss the rest of the season. At the time of his injury, the quarterback was ranked in the top of every statistical category."

This time, three years later, it is a concussion plaguing Ponder, but it's not the first one and it's not something to be taken lightly. He had one as a senior at Florida State, and the more concussions are researched, the more fear there is that as that head injury is repeated, the more frequent and damaging they can become.

But concussions are far from the only injuries that have impeded Ponder's availability and development.

This calendar year started with him in street clothes during a wild-card playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field because of the triceps contusion. Then, in the third game of the 2013 season, he suffered a broken rib that the team said was a concern because it was close to his heart. That allowed Matt Cassel to start two games, with Vikings brass starting to show cracks in their confidence in Ponder when Cassel was named the starter for the Carolina Panthers game even while declaring Ponder cleared to play. After Cassel and Josh Freeman overtook a three-game stretch of starting spot duty, the Vikings returned to Ponder. He played through a shoulder injury suffered on Nov. 7 … until a shot to the head last Sunday put him back on the sideline.

In addition to his concussion at Florida State, he suffered a separated shoulder in 2009 that caused him to miss the final four games. That injury, suffered while making a tackle following an interception, required surgery.

In 2010, it was a right elbow strain (bursa sac) and a triceps bruise that limited him and appeared to affect his range and accuracy, according to the scouting report. There were also triceps and leg contusions in addition to the two surgeries he had on his right arm related to the bursa sac and removal of scar tissue.

Ponder has taken his share of hits, but some of them could be his own fault for not getting rid of the ball quickly enough. According to Pro Football Focus, Ponder took an average of 2.84 seconds to throw against the Chicago Bears while Cassel took 2.3 seconds. That half a second can make all the difference in both the statistics and his health.

It also meant Ponder was under pressure on 63.6 percent of his dropbacks, compared to 31.4 percent for Cassel, according to PFF.

With injuries and ineffectiveness mounting, Ponder would do well to make the quick decision if given another chance – and that's getting to be a bigger "if." He needs to either reduce the time with the ball in his hands or have the time with the clipboard in his hands increased.

Injuries aren't always the fault of the player, but in Ponder's case it's hard not to wonder how much of his extensive injury trouble he has brought on himself.

QUICK SLANTS

  • It sure sounds like Josh Freeman is getting closer to seeing action because the Vikings may have their last game Sunday with the playoffs still a mathematical possibility. But remember this warning: Freeman should get a chance to prove himself, but if in-practice accuracy is any indication he may not be the savior fans were hoping. Look no further than that explanation as to why he hasn't started yet.

  • The Vikings will be required to make a decision on WR Greg Childs' roster status early this week. The receiver hasn't played a down in the NFL since after tearing both patellar tendons as a rookie at training camp in 2012. Either he will be placed on the active roster (likely at the expense of Rodney Smith) or he will officially be done for the season. "Childs has looked pretty good. He's made a lot of progress," Frazier said. Still, it would be an upset if he contributed anything meaningful to the Vikings this season.

  • S Harrison Smith is expected to be taken off injured reserve/designated for return next week and return to the lineup for the first time since suffering a severe case of turf toe on Oct. 13. It will create an interesting decision if Smith immediately returns to the starting lineup. Who gets benched: Jamarca Sanford or Andrew Sendejo, who has been adequate in Smith's absence? "He's been a very good special teams player for us, and now pressed into starting duty," Frazier said of Sendejo. "He's done well at the safety position, had a bunch of tackles in every game he's played. Been assignment-sound."

  • Last Sunday, Adrian Peterson became the first player to have two 200-yard rushing games against the Chicago Bears, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The only other players with even one 200-yard rushing game against the Bears were Earl Campbell, Edgerrin James and Ricky Williams. Peterson also became the first player to post four consecutive 100-yard games against the Bears. Nick Pietrosante, Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders and Clinton Portis had three-game streaks. Just add that to the impressive lists of Peterson accomplishments.

  • The player to watch for the Baltimore Ravens: Speedster receiver Torrey Smith. He has 54 catches for 952 yards – a whopping 17.6-yard average – and four touchdowns this season. That's 600 more yards than any other Ravens receiver. "Speed, speed and more speed," Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams said about Smith. "Big-time receiver and (Joe) Flacco does a great job of throwing the vertical. I know their coordinator – they probably tell him, ‘Hey, you're never covered. Throw the ball up and let the receiver go get it.'"


    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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