Will familiarity rekindle Ponder?

Why the Minnesota Vikings’ next opponent should be a good fit for Christian Ponder.

Christian Ponder experienced a change of scenery that could be good for him, but he has plenty of familiarity with the Oakland Raiders, too.

The 2011 first-round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings didn’t find much success in Minnesota. He was given several opportunities to start, but while he was usually willing to discuss the ups and downs of his career, the on-field performance was never up to “franchise quarterback” standards.

Getting away from the fed-up boo-birds in Minnesota was a foregone conclusion at the end of the last season and the Raiders were the team willing to put Ponder into a backup role to 2014 first-round pick Derek Carr. That’s also the team the Vikings will face Saturday night in their third preseason game.

The change from Midwest to West Coast will require an adjustment, but Ponder at least has the advantage of familiarity with Bill Musgrave’s offensive system. That’s what Ponder learned upon his arrival in Minnesota and for his first three seasons, and that’s his offensive coordinator again in Oakland.

“I know there’s familiar faces out there for him in Oakland being back with Bill. It’s another opportunity for him. I think that’s all he could ask for is a fresh start and a new opportunity to go out there to Oakland,” said tight end Kyle Rudolph. “We all know Christian is going to work every day and be a guy that when he’s called upon is going to go out there and perform. I’m sure he’s not doing anything different out in Oakland than he would up here.”

Ponder started 36 games over his four-year career with the Vikings, finishing with a 14-21-1 record as a starter and completing 59.8 percent of his passes with 38 touchdowns and 36 interceptions.

Rudolph, who was the Vikings’ next draft pick after Ponder in 2011 and spent that summer of NFL lockout working out with Ponder in Florida, saw the struggles of Ponder but said he never got down on himself.

“Obviously Christian wanted to be out there every Sunday and be the franchise quarterback that everyone expected him to be when he came here, but with that being said, there isn’t a better professional out there than Christian,” Rudolph said. “He goes about his business. He takes care of his work and he prepares each and every day as if he’s the starter on Sunday. Christian will be around this league a long time because of that. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to be on a team because of his work ethic and the way he prepares himself.”

Rudolph said he still talks with Ponder occasionally – more during the offseason – and hopes to see him before Saturday night’s game against the Raiders at TCF Bank Stadium.

But for Rudolph, the page has turned from Ponder to Teddy Bridgewater. The latest first-round quarterback for the Vikings has had an easier time of the transition from college to the NFL than Ponder did.

Last year, when Matt Cassel suffered broken bones in his foot, the Vikings turned to Bridgewater, not Ponder. The then-rookie had a strong first season, completing 64.4 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and a 6-6 record as a starter without the benefit of Adrian Peterson in the backfield. He had the third-highest completion percentage for a rookie quarterback in NFL history and the seventh-highest passer rating (85.2) of rookie quarterbacks.

His first impression was obviously a good one.

“Dating back to last year when he came in the game in New Orleans, that first really live action that he had, what he showed us as an offense, the way he came in there, the way he fought, the throws that he made, I don’t think there’s a tougher environment than on the road in the Superdome,” Rudolph said. “For me personally, it showed me that this kid’s got it and he’s going to be really good. He continued to get better throughout the year and then this offseason he kind of took the role of our franchise quarterback and leader of this offense and ran with it. I say all the time, a lot of times that role is forced on young guys. You see it all the time where they want the quarterback to be a vocal leader and it’s just not really his deal. That’s just something that’s come extremely natural to Teddy and he’s done a great job.”

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