Christian Ponder (Steve Cannon/AP)
Despite heavy praise from head coach Leslie Frazier, new Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder said he has to earn the respect of the fans and his teammates. His job could be made easier with some similarities in plays between the Vikings and his Florida State Seminoles.
The Christian Ponder era began before the court ruling reinstituting the lockout of players began. However, in the meantime, he was introduced to the local media as the newest member of the Vikings Friday morning.
Before taking the podium and posing for photos holding a No. 1 jersey – he said he expects to wear No. 7 (a jersey that has belonged to Tarvaris Jackson the last four seasons) when he starts playing – head coach Leslie Frazier set the bar high in terms of organizational belief in his skills.
Frazier wasn’t shy about his praise of Ponder, who is the just the third quarterback ever taken in the first round by the Vikings, joining Tommy Kramer (1977) and Daunte Culpepper (1999). He ushered in the Ponder era with a glowing introduction, saying that he expects Ponder to be his right-hand man as both step into new career paths.
“I get the great pleasure of being able to introduce the first-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings, Christian Ponder, who I really feel like is going to be here with us a long time and really set a legacy as a quarterback that all of us will remember for years and years to come,” Frazier said. “Last night when we made that selection is was something for me – it was just a relief – that we got a guy who will solidify that position for years to come and I won’t have to come back each year at the draft and wonder about our quarterback situation for the future. It’s an exciting time for me in my first year as a head football coach in the National Football League, the fact that we drafted a quarterback who I have a great deal of confidence in and really am looking forward to watching him mature as a quarterback along with my maturation as a head football coach.”
After a whirlwind night that included the first flight out of Dallas this morning to get to Winter Park, Ponder said he likes what he sees in his first trip to Minnesota. What he likes more, however, is the team he is coming to.
Many first-round quarterbacks come into situations where the team they are coming to is at the bottom of the league and viewing the new QB as a franchise savior. With the weapons at his disposal in the Vikings offense, Ponder said he thinks the weight on his shoulders won’t be as bad as it will be for the other top QBs in the draft.
“My job’s easy,” Ponder said. “I’ve just got to hand the ball off to Adrian Peterson and throw the ball to Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice. What do I have to do? They’ve got to do all the dirty work, so it’s a great fit for me and it takes a lot of the pressure off of me. I’m going to be loving it. I’ve never been around so much talent.”
The learning curve for any young quarterback is going to be significant, but one of the selling points to the Vikings that Ponder is “their guy” is that, when he had discussions on the Florida State campus with new Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson, he found that there were some striking similarities to the offenses Ponder ran at FSU and what Musgrave and Johnson are installing with the Vikings.
“It’s funny,” Ponder said. “When we were talking, sitting in the meeting room in Tallahassee, we were going over a lot of the same concepts that he did. It was the same stuff we did at Florida State. We ran a lot of the same plays and did a lot of the same pass protections. It was very similar and that gives me a lot of confidence.”
While the Vikings have glowing remarks to make about Ponder, selling the rest of Vikings Country on Ponder hasn’t been as easy. The national draft coverage consistently referred to Ponder as “a reach” at No. 12 and many of the Vikings fans attending the team’s annual draft party in the Winter Park Fieldhouse let their opinions be heard with loud and vociferous booing.
Just as Ponder won over the Vikings war room, he will have to do the same with the fan base and his new teammates. It’s going to be a challenge, but one that Ponder said he’s ready to address immediately. He was given the platform to be a franchise quarterback. Now it’s time to prove he belongs.
“Number one, I have to earn my respect – from the fans and from my teammates,” Ponder said. “There is a lot of uncertainty with any pick in the draft. I know that on my personal level. I’m going to put in my time to earn that respect and do what I have to do. I know what comes with this role and I’m going to prepare myself for it. I’ll be fine.”
When asked if he thought winning over the locker room could be difficult since it is loaded with a lot of veteran players, Ponder said he thinks just the opposite will be true.
“I think it will be easier with guys like that,” Ponder said. “I know they are going to be helping me out and they are going to be taking pressure off of me and taking on more of that leadership role. But, as a quarterback, it obviously is a natural position of leadership. It’s going to be my job over the next couple of months to earn their respect, earn that role and become a leader of this team.”
There remains a lot of speculation as to when the Ponder Era will begin, but said he’s ready to take on whatever timetable is going to be in place. If he starts Week 1, he’s good with it. If he has to wait his turn (Musgrave indicated that the plan will be to add a fourth quarterback, almost certainly a veteran QB), he’ll be patient. He isn’t going to come in with a sense of entitlement, rather preparing himself for being the starter and being ready when it comes – either in Week 1 of the 2011 season or as much as a year or two down the line.
“The No. 1 thing is that I have to earn my role, whatever that may be,” Ponder said. “I am preparing myself like I’m going to be the starter, but I have to earn that role. Obviously, Joe Webb is here and Rhett Bomar is on the roster. Guys that are here that are a step ahead of me. I have some ground to make, whether I have to sit behind a guy for a couple of games, for a season or for a couple of seasons. Whatever that role might be, I will be fine with it, but I will prepare myself as the starter. If I do get that role for the game, I’ll be excited about it and I’ll be ready to roll.”
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.