Christian Ponder (Bruce Kluckhohn/US Presswire)
Christian Ponder is expecting to improve the more time he gets in the Vikings offense, but Leslie Frazier is also looking for Ponder to take on more of a leadership role. Frazier sees an increase in Ponder’s confidence and wants to see him “in charge.”
Coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history, the Vikings are in full-blown rebuilding mode. If they are to return to a playoff level, one of the biggest certainties is that Christian Ponder is going to have to show tangible improvement.
It’s no secret that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league and the success or failure of franchises is often directly tied to the play of its quarterback. Without the benefit of an offseason workout program to learn the team’s playbook and execute it thousands of time on the practice field, Ponder was admittedly hamstrung by the system and, by the time he replaced ineffective Donovan McNabb last year, the Vikings were already a playoff afterthought.
Head coach Leslie Frazier said the Ponder he met last year is much different in 2012 and is ready to take on a leadership role on a Vikings team that has become markedly younger after jettisoning several veterans since the end of the 2010 season. Coaches and general managers don’t like to use the term “rebuilding” very often, because it is an admission that the team may struggle through growing pains. The quickest way to hasten that process is to get strong play at quarterback, and Frazier believes that Ponder is making the needed progress to get the job done.
“(You are) able to see his confidence grow this offseason, to see him taking charge more in our meetings and now on the practice field,” Frazier said. “You need that from your quarterback because it kind of settles everybody else down when they feel like the quarterback is in charge and he’s really beginning to show that.”
Frazier admitted that being an NFL quarterback goes beyond the X’s and O’s of the playbook. It entails taking charge, something he is happy to see Ponder embracing as he enters his first full off-season.
“We need that,” Frazier said. “We think he’s going to perform well, but we also need the leadership. We need other guys to be able to look at him and, when things get a little crazy, to see him be able to settle people down and get things going in the right direction. We need that from that position and he’s been showing that.”
A big part of Ponder’s maturation as an NFL quarterback is about being a leader in the locker room, not just the face of the offense. Ponder has credited the relationships former Vikings QB Brett Favre was able to forge with the entire team, not just the offensive players he worked with on game days, as being something he would like emulate. That hasn’t been lost on Frazier, who believes leadership is shown more by actions than words.
“I think that’s part of leadership and when that happens – when a guy feels comfortable enough to not just gravitate to his side of the ball, but to be able to sit down and have lunch with a Jamarca Sanford on the other of the ball or have a conversation with Kevin (Williams) about whatever is going on in his life – at the position he’s at, the quarterback position, you need other guys around you to feel comfortable with you. It helps when things get tough. I don’t think he’s too you for that to happen. There’s a lot of youth around him as well, but we do have a good mix of veterans. The guys respect him enough that, if he takes that step, it will be good for our team.”
For his part, Ponder believes he is making the needed progress. As a rookie, not only was he deprived of the learning curve rookies typically have before they’re thrown in the fire, he came in as a backup from Day One. With McNabb in front of him, the chances to win the starting job were minimal at best. It took a flop of a start by McNabb for Ponder to get his opportunity. This time around, he is the unquestioned starter and believes that his offseason preparation this spring and summer will pay off in the autumn of the year.
“It’s huge for me,” Ponder said. “I obviously need as much work as I can get. The more time you put into it, the better it’s going to be – not only for me, but for the whole offense and then the defense, learning a new defense as well. It’s a lot of great time to put in a lot of work, get better and get prepared for the season.”
Ponder’s progress will be as vital as anything to the success the Vikings hope for in 2012. If he struggles, most likely the team as a whole will suffer. If he succeeds, it will have a ripple effect – something Frazier is confident will happen in 2012.
“You hope that in Year Two, he’s going to do a better job as far as making decisions with the football – where it should go, where it shouldn’t go and sometimes what you need to do in certain plays, whether to get out of a bad play or to put in a better play. His decision-making is something you’d like to see him taker another step (forward) and we expect that in his second season – the leadership part of it. That’s something we really need. We need it badly and he’s in a position where you want to see that happen.”
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.