Ponder, Webb fighting to finish for No. 2 QB

Christian Ponder (Otto Greule Jr./Getty)

Christian Ponder and Joe Webb could put the finishing touches on their battle to be the No. 2 QB for the Vikings. They will get their last chance of the preseason Thursday night against the Texans.

Donovan McNabb was named the starter in Minnesota the minute the Vikings acquired him in a trade from Washington in July.

The big question has been who will take over if McNabb has to leave a game in the regular season – rookie Christian Ponder or second-year pro Joe Webb?

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier should get a long way toward an answer on Thursday night, when Ponder plays the first half and Webb goes for the second half of the preseason finale against the Houston Texans.

"We definitely want to see both guys, Christian along with Joe, create some separation for that number two spot and maybe this game will be an indication of which guy should be number two," Frazier said.

The Vikings will also be looking to establish a starting strong safety for Week 1 in San Diego, with Jamarca Sanford and Tyrell Johnson battling for that spot.

The Texans appear to have most of their key areas shored up, which is why coach Gary Kubiak will play mostly young players in hopes of avoiding any more injuries. Kubiak has already lost offensive linemen Kasey Studdard and Shelley Smith for the season with ankle injuries, and star running back Arian Foster is nursing a hamstring strain that could keep him out at the start of the regular season. Foster even tweeted about the "anti-awesomeness" of his injury, but said he will "be fine."

Kubiak said he is looking for clarity in the crowded defensive backfield and also hopes to get running back Steve Slaton some work as he returns from his own hamstring injury that has bothered him for most of August.

"I think our veteran guys have had a good preseason. This turnaround from a San Francisco trip to a Minnesota trip has been very difficult on the guys," Kubiak said. "We haven't been able to do much leading up to this game. I want to keep some guys healthy and I want to find out about the other guys, so with that in mind, you won't see many veterans play."

Matt Leinart will start at quarterback for Houston, with T.J. Yates also seeing plenty of time. Just like the Vikings, there is no question who is the man in Houston. Matt Schaub will run the show again, and Kubiak wants to see the uneven Leinart continue to make strides and show he is ready should Schaub, who has started every game the last two seasons, go down.

"Matt improved last week," Kubiak said. "I think we kind of slowed ourselves down with Matt last week and made sure we weren't asking him to do too much and he played better."

The Vikings chose Ponder, a Texas native and Florida State alum, with the 12th pick in the first round in April. The summer-long lockout put him behind in his development, and he's been up and down in the preseason. He's completed 51.5 percent of his passes for 207 yards, no TDs and no interceptions in parts of three games.

Typical of most rookie quarterbacks, especially this preseason, Ponder has looked a little rushed in the pocket and prone to scramble to the edge to give himself more room to work. But he performed well in a two-minute drill at the end of the game against Dallas on Saturday, looking poised as he quickly moved the Vikings down the field.

"I've thought each week I've learned a different thing from each game and hopefully take it into this last one," Ponder said. "I think I've progressed. Right now I'm in that thinking stage, that learning curve stage. I'm adjusting. But I've thought so far it's gone pretty well."

Webb started the final two games last season, leading the Vikings to an upset win over the Eagles in Philadelphia. But his superior athleticism has the Vikings trying to work him in at receiver as well as quarterback. Webb is 12 for 23 for 170 yards and an interception in the preseason and has also rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown in the preseason.

"We've been doing a good job competing against one another throughout this camp," Webb said. "Just going into the last game you want to continue to get better."

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