Christian Ponder (Grant Helverson/Getty)
While Christian Ponder will make his case for the No. 2 quarterback spot Saturday night, the Vikings will be without some key offensive starters, including Percy Harvin and Visanthe Shiancoe. See what Ponder, Harvin and others had to say, plus get other notes from Thursday’s final full practice of the week.
Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder will be the second quarterback in Saturday’s preseason game for the Vikings, getting his shot in relief of starter Donovan McNabb after Joe Webb took those duties in the preseason opener.
“We’d like to see him continue to improve in all areas – his grasp of the offense, some of his throws, command of the huddle. Those are some of things you judge him on, and he is making progress,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said of Ponder.
“He’s a fighter. We knew that when we were making the decision about drafting him. He’s a gamer. He’s not backing down. But he also knows, when we made the decision to acquire Donovan, we told him that you’ve got to make sure you’re preparing to be the No. 1 quarterback because in our league it could happen on any play, where we could turn around and say, ‘Christian, it’s time to get warmed up.’”
Ponder actually ended up with the highest passer rating among the three quarterbacks – himself, McNabb and Webb – that played Saturday. He connected on 8 of 13 passes for 84 yards for an 80.3 rating, but he did take three of the team’s four sacks.
Ponder said his performance last Saturday in Tennessee was “OK,” but he admitted he could have made more plays.
“I missed a go route that was wide open on a bust by the defense,” he said. “I think I handled things pretty well. You’ve just got to keep working on protections and picking up blitzes and stuff. But I think overall it was just good to get that experience under my belt and get that confidence. I think this week will be better.”
While Ponder was blitzed during his days at Florida State, the NFL is known for having more complex defenses for quarterbacks to diagnose. No matter how intelligent a quarterback is – and Ponder’s academic accomplishments are impressive – reading those in a timely fashion is difficult on any rookie.
“They definitely are different. The NFL does a great job disguising things better than they did in college,” he said. “The good thing now in preseason is they don’t do anything really too complex. It’s just me learning how to pick things up and what we do in this system. But I’m getting comfortable. [On Wednesday] we did a lot of blitz work, which was great. I’m definitely getting a lot more comfortable with it.”
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said earlier this week that some of the pressure the quarterbacks felt from the Titans defense in the preseason opener came because the receivers and QBs weren’t quick enough on their patterns and passes.
“There was definitely some balls I could get out quicker and that’s just adjusting to the NFL. I’ve got to do a better job of hitting that fifth step, one hitch, you get the ball out,” Ponder said. “I can’t be taking a bunch of hitches trying to read everything. It’s my job to get the ball out as quick as possible.”
Ponder seems to be more comfortable when rolling out of the pocket, away from pressure and throwing on the run.
“Maybe at this stage [he is], but there is a lot more football and a lot more offense to come,” Frazier said. “He is going to get more comfortable as he gets more reps in our offense and different parts of it.”
That’s true for all the quarterbacks trying to acclimate to Bill Musgrave’s new offensive system. While Ponder had a respectable 80.3 rating, McNabb was at 62.7 on 6 of 11 passing and Webb was a dismal 27.6, mainly because of the interception he threw. Webb completed 4 of 8 passes.
HARVIN, SHIANCOE OUT SATURDAY
Wide receiver Percy Harvin (ribs) and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (hamstring) headline a group of players expected to sit out of the Vikings’ second preseason game at Seattle on Saturday night.
Frazier said he expected Shiancoe and Harvin would be able to resume practicing at some point next week.
Harvin left Tuesday’s practice and has sat out the last two days of work.
“This injury is more of them protecting me, just a little abdominal strain. Just [hurts] when I breath sometimes, so they wanted me to sit out,” Harvin said.
He tried to get on the field, he said, showing up for practice with his helmet.
“I’m hard-headed so I tried to put it off. Coach had a plan so he wanted me to shut it down today, so it’s his call,” Harvin said.
Also expected to be sidelined Saturday, according to Frazier, are right guard Anthony Herrera (knee), fullback Matt Asiata (hip flexor), linebackers Heath Farwell (hamstring) and Kenny Onatolu (foot) and receiver Greg Camarillo (groin).
Ryan Cook or Chris DeGeare will likely get the start at guard in Herrera’s place, and Scott Kooistra is also an option, Frazier said.
Linebacker Erin Henderson has been limited the last two days after bumping his knee on Wednesday, but he “should be fine” to play Saturday, Frazier said. The same goes for cornerback Asher Allen, who was given the Thursday off with a toe injury.
Another change to the starting lineup is Tyrell Johnson, who will get the start at strong safety in place of Jamarca Sanford as those two battle for the spot vacated with the release of Madieu Williams.
The order for Saturday’s quarterback rotation will be McNabb, Ponder, Webb, and then the Vikings are hoping to get Rhett Bomar into the game late, Frazier said.
Safety Mistral Raymond is set for his first preseason action after sitting out the opener last Saturday.
Ryan Longwell hit all six of his field goal attempts Thursday, including two from 45 yards.
With Shiancoe out, rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph saw a lot of passes thrown his way this week and has caught nearly everything.
McNabb connected with Bernard Berrian on a go route down the sideline for a touchdown with Cedric Griffin in tight coverage during full-team work. Griffin later got his revenge when he intercepted a McNabb pass intended for Berrian during 7-on-7 drills.
The catch of the day came courtesy of undrafted rookie Andre Holmes, who made a diving catch on a pass from Ponder in the end zone with cornerback Brandon Burton in tight coverage and battling for the ball. There was some question whether Holmes made the catch in bounds, but vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman had the best vantage point. As one player said, “If the GM says it’s a touchdown, it’s a touchdown.”
Linebacker Jasper Brinkley got a touch sack on Webb during full-team work.
The Vikings are 27-23-1 in franchise preseason history and 16-11-1 on the road.
The last time the Vikings didn’t score a touchdown in a preseason game was at Buffalo on Aug. 8, 1997.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of 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.