Ponder prepping, despite uncertainty

Christian Ponder is finally getting physical reps with the first-team offense as Teddy Bridgewater recovers from a sprained ankle.

There was a time this past summer when there was a lot of speculation as to whether the Vikings would either trade or release Christian Ponder.

The theory had some outward validity to it. Ponder had entered the 2013 season as the unquestioned starter but entered the 2014 season as the unquestioned inactive third quarterback.

However, one thing that didn’t change was the organization’s belief that he could be a benefit to them if called upon. He clearly wasn’t the top starting quarterback in the NFL, but he is a solid No. 3 QB at the very least.

Ten days ago, he became the No. 2 quarterback when Matt Cassel was lost for the season with a foot injury. Tuesday he was practicing with the first-team offense because Teddy Bridgewater is dealing with an ankle injury. In the ever-changing world of “Next Man Up,” the Vikings have been dealing with next men up at several levels, with Ponder potentially being the third different Vikings starter in the last three games.

With Bridgewater hoping to heal in time for Thursday night’s game, but no tangible assurance that will happen, Ponder is back in the position he was much of last season – waiting his turn and hoping for the best.

“I’m preparing to play, but we’re hoping for the best with Teddy,” Ponder said. “I’ve talked with Teddy. He’s doing everything he can to prepare to get ready and play. We’ll see what happens.”

In situations like the Vikings are facing, it’s a difficult tightrope to balance on. Ponder is preparing as if he will start, but doesn’t know if it will happen or not. However, he isn’t letting the uncertainty change how he is approaching the Packers game.

“It’s like every other week,” Ponder said. “I’ve tried to prepare just in case. You prepare as if you are the starter so that, if you are thrown in there, you’re prepared enough to play well. I’m taking it as if it’s any other week.”

Ponder has been excited about getting the opportunity to run Norv Turner’s offense. He has raved about how much he has enjoyed delving deep into the intricacies of Turner’s scheme and, although he was mired at the bottom of the depth chart and, prior to last week, was getting very few practice reps with the first or second team offense, he has remained mentally sharp and ready to step in if the opportunity presented itself.

“I do feel pretty good,” Ponder said. “I’ve paid attention during practice the whole time, taking a lot of mental reps. I feel pretty confident in what I’m doing.”

In many ways, mental reps are similar to a pilot using a flight simulator. It’s not the real thing, but it’s as close as one can get when the real thing isn’t available. Just as practicing can’t accurately simulate the hitting and speed of an actual game, getting time under center with the first team is the only way for Ponder to get comfortable with the offense.

He isn’t being fazed by the lack of taking snaps and throwing passes to players like Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson. Although the benefit of getting his timing down with his receivers and his offensive line is critical, he’s been preparing as well as he can under the circumstances.

“Mental reps are different than physical reps obviously,” Ponder said. “Physical reps are more important than mental reps, but this game has a lot of the mental side of it. The mental side is very important. I feel like preparing, studying the playbook and watching as much film as possible, it definitely helps. But physical reps are important.”

Having been on both sides of the starter/backup equation, Ponder may not know whether or not he will be starting or on the sideline when Thursday’s game kicks off at Lambeau Field.

Much like he wasn’t sure whether he could play against the Packers in 2012 when the Vikings went on the road to Green Bay in the playoffs and he was deactivated 90 minutes prior to game time, the final decision as to who plays may not be made until Bridgewater tests out his ailing ankle a couple of hours before the start of Thursday’s game.

This time around, the shoe is on the other foot. Ponder is healthy, ready and waiting to get the word from the coaching staff. He may start. He may sit. He may have to enter the game midstream if Bridgewater gives it a go and his ankle doesn’t hold up. He doesn’t know which of those scenarios will play out, but he feels ready to take on the challenge in whatever form it manifests.

“I don’t what the timeline is going to be honestly,” Ponder said. “I think my mentality right now is prepping like I’m going to play just in case it happens. There won’t be a change in mentality and I think Teddy’s the same way. He’s preparing like he’s going to play.”

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