Extra Points: Vikings need to start pressing Ponder

1:52 PM, Aug 12, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - T.S. Eliot once said: "Sometimes things become possible if we want them bad enough."

That seems to be the Minnesota Vikings' thinking when it comes to underwhelming third-year quarterback Christian Ponder.

Sometime between January and July of this year Ponder evidently joined an elite group of signal callers headlined by names like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

Or at least that's how Leslie Frazier treated him in Minnesota's preseason opener on Friday, giving the Florida State product just two offensive snaps and the rest of the night off, the kind of respect only the most entrenched of starters gets.

And actually that's not even true. Rodgers, a year removed from his MVP season, played one series and 11 snaps in Green Bay's first contest, while Brady, the three-time Super Bowl winner, handled 16 reps and two series in the Patriots' inaugural affair. Even the 37-year-old, nine-time All-Pro Manning was asked to handle seven snaps for Denver before taking a seat.

To be fair Ponder was scheduled to play a little more until his continued accuracy problems shortcircuted things.

Frazier claims he decided before the Vikings' 27-13 loss to the Texans that Ponder would only play in one series.

Minnesota then won the coin toss and electrifying rookie Cordarrelle Patterson returned the opening kickoff 50 yards to the Vikings' 45-yard line. Ponder followed that with a sharp 15-yard completion to Jerome Simpson before going back to the well with a poorly thrown pass toward the wideout. This time Simpson got a paw on the scattershot throw, which was high and outside, and tipped it into the hands of Texans safety Shiloh Keo.

Just like that Ponder's night was done.

"There was a temptation (to put Ponder back in)," Frazier said when asked about sticking to his strange plan. "But then I reminded myself why we made the decision we were going to go one series, whether it was two plays, three plays, 10 plays."

"We knew it was going to be one drive but we would have liked it to be a touchdown and a long drive, but it is what it is," Ponder added. "We have a ton of practice left to get better."

Fair enough but here's the problem with that line of thinking -- Ponder is a mechanical mess who plays with the self confidence of an acne-ridden high school kid. If anyone needs repetitions in this preseason it's Christian Ponder.

Ponder is in a group -- or at least he should be -- which includes Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert, Tennessee's Jake Locker and perhaps a rookie like Buffalo's E.J. Manuel, players that need every single opportunity they can get.

Injury simply can't be a concern here. Remember, these days Joe Webb isn't the backup in Minnesota any longer. Proven veteran Matt Cassel is and you can make a strong argument that Cassel is better equipped right now to lead the Vikings anyway.

"Number one you don't want to get hurt, especially in the first preseason game," Ponder said. "There are guys that are trying to make roster spots who need the playing time as well. We'll get plenty of time in the next couple of games."

Cassel, the ex-Patriots and Chiefs pilot, is far from a star but can certainly prey on defenses that pile eight or nine in the box to try to stop reigning MVP Adrian Peterson and the Vikings vaunted running game.

Cassel was impressive in extended action against the Texans. Forget about the final score. That was Minnesota's third- and fourth-teamers getting waxed by impressive Houston third-string signal caller Case Keenum. The ones and twos for the Vikings -- with Cassel leading them -- were actually leading 13-10 in the guts of the game.

"He got in a rhythm and it seemed like he did some good things as far as moving our team, taking command of the offense; so those were some encouraging moments for him," Frazier said when talking about Cassel.

That is what makes the organization's slavish devotion to Ponder so perplexing.

Those who still believe in Ponder point to December when the Vikings made an unlikely playoff run by winning four straight games without star wideout Percy Harvin.

And to his credit Ponder did rebound from an awful midseason slump in which he would often have trouble reaching the century mark in passing yards, an almost unthinkable struggle in today's pass-heavy NFL.

To those watching closely, however, it was clear offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave dialed everything back and asked Ponder to do little other than manage the game as Peterson and a solid defense did all the heavy lifting.

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has built a championship level club around Ponder. Minnesota is loaded with the best running back in the sport (Peterson), a terrific offensive line, an emerging tight end in Kyle Rudolph as well as a much-improved receiving corps thanks to the additions of veteran Greg Jennings and Patterson. On defense, the Vikings have a deep line, solidified their linebacking group with the addition of Desmond Bishop and alleviated the loss of Antoine Winfield by drafting Xavier Rhodes.

There is only one piece missing but it happens to be at the most important position in the game and perhaps all of sport.

Ponder has always been able to verbalize on what he needs to improve on and has diagnosed most of his problems well but the fact remains he often regresses to what's natural to him, and his default settings are just not conducive to solid quarterback play at the NFL level.

Handling him with kid gloves and limiting important reps that could help break some very bad habits is the polar opposite of what should be going on here.

In Week 2 of the preseason expect Ponder to play about a quarter just like most of the other proven starters around the league as the Vikings continue their convoluted plan of morphing osmosis together with an old-fashioned wish.

Problem is, wishes are only granted in fairy tales.

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