One camp later, QB situation far different

Last year at training camp, everyone wanted to talk to Christian Ponder about a follow-up to a playoff season. This year, Ponder is far in the background as Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater battle for the starting job.

Typically, the Fourth of July weekend is a time when fans start to get the itch for the coming football season. It's now less than a month away and, for the second straight year, quarterback is going to be the topic of conversation, but for very different reasons.

When it comes to the NFL, even though fans have long memories when it comes to the minutia of a specific play from 1979, when it comes to short-term memory, it can be a little sketchy and in need of reminding.

The national media will likely make their annual stops in Mankato to talk about the Vikings quarterback situation. They were in Mankato last year as well, but for a completely different reason.

All the big-name writers and talkers made cameo appearances at Vikings training camp last July and August. There was one player they all seemed to be looking to get one-on-one interviews with. Adrian Peterson? Nope. Jared Allen? Nope, unless you were Jay Glazer.

The most wanted player was Christian Ponder.

Coming off a 10-6 season in which the Vikings made the playoffs in 2012 on the back (and surgically repaired knee) of Peterson, Ponder was the focus of the media. If the Vikings were to make the jump to the next level and be a legitimate Super Bowl contender, Ponder was facing a make-or-break season.

He broke.

The Vikings had learned a harsh lesson in the post-Brett Favre era. The Old Gunslinger had showed Vikings players, especially guys like Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin, how explosive the Vikings offense could be with a signal-caller of elite status running the show. Donovan McNabb showed them the opposite.

It was the understanding of what an elite quarterback can accomplish that led Rick Spielman, who has been quarterback-challenged in his assessment of college and backup talent in both his days with Miami and Minnesota, to draft Ponder with the 12th pick in 2011.

Many thought it was a stretch, but in his only full season as a starter, the Vikings went 10-6 and made the playoffs. However, the general impression was that the Jets made the playoffs with Mark Sanchez as their starting QB and the conventional wisdom was that the Vikings made the postseason despite Ponder rather than because of him.

Having learned from their mistake with not having a veteran backup quarterback in the wings for the postseason when Ponder was sidelined with a shoulder injury, Matt Cassel was the quarterback understudy. He said all the right things. He wasn't here to compete for a starting job. His job was to be ready when and if his number got called.

It did.

Fast forward one year. The national media will again be descending on Mankato, but, this time, it's likely none of them will be seeking out Ponder. Cassel opted out of his contract and was re-signed with a healthy bump in pay and the unspoken understanding that the job was his to lose in the preseason. When the team drafted Teddy Bridgewater, suddenly that understanding was more of an "earn-it" proposition.

However, as Vikings fans start booking hotel rooms and the staffing requirements at Mankato-area businesses spikes upward in anticipation, the same topic of discussion will be bantered in the stands, the hotels, the bars and the restaurants. It will be quarterbacks.

But this time, it will have very little to do with Ponder.

Things move quickly in the NFL. Just go back to the training camp focus from last year to get the proof.


  • Do you suppose the Vikings are happy they didn't sign up with the Johnny Manziel circus? While Teddy Bridgewater is said to be working on virtual reps by imputing the Vikings playbook into the Madden 25game to get extra preparation while away from the Vikings, Manziel has done nothing but make news for all the wrong reasons. The latest? He's spending his off time in Los Angeles hanging out with Justin Bieber. Nothing bad even happens around Bieber, right?

  • In one of its numerous offseason time-fillers, the NFL's website has been counting down its top players "Making the Leap" to be stars in 2014. Everson Griffen and Cordarrelle Patterson have both made the list already. Former Viking Toby Gerhart, the anticipated starting running back in Jacksonville, was named Tuesday as the No. 8 player expected to make the leap to stardom.

  • Pete Prisco of CBS Sportsline, created a list of the most overrated and underrated players for each team in the NFL. His picks for the Vikings as overrated was wide receiver Greg Jennings and the most underrated was offensive tackle Phil Loadholt.

    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.

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