described his first day of training camp last year as "horrible." But the self-described harshest self-critic would have to admit that things took a 180-degree turn with a second chance at the first day of training camp.
Ponder foreshadowed what his opening afternoon practice of 2012 training camp would be like when he started the full-team session with a completion to tight end Kyle Rudolph
on the first snap. For the first 12 passes during two different full-team sessions, Ponder didn't miss.
"My first day last year compared to this was horrible. I didn't even get that many reps," Ponder said after Friday's practice. "This year I got all the (first-team) reps. I just feel so much more comfortable with my teammates, my surroundings, this offense. It just has a completely different feel to it."
So did he, and his receivers. Even when Ponder wasn't delivering the ball precisely on target, his receivers were making him right. There was a sideline pass that Percy Harvin
had to leap high to haul in. There was a seam route that Rudolph had to gather in between two safeties. There was a throw that required Jerome Simpson
to adjust and make a diving catch, one that resulted in Ponder running to Simpson to congratulate him.
"He made a great catch on that. It was a crappy throw. He made me look alright," Ponder said.
But no one had more of a presence in Ponder's target repertoire than Rudolph. The 6-foot-6 tight end caught five of Ponder's first 12 completions.
"I feel like as an offense, getting the tight end the ball is where this league is going," Rudolph said. "We feel like we can create mismatches in the pass game. But any time you have guys like Percy, Jerome, Michael Jenkins
, guys like that on the outside that can make plays and then Adrian (Peterson) in the backfield, they can only have so many guys in the middle of the field and we feel like we can exploit that."
Eventually, John Carlson
, the tight end the Vikings landed in free agency with a five-year, $25 million contract got into the mix, but there was a clear notation of chemistry between Ponder and Rudolph, who are golfing buddies off the field.
"I think we've built up a lot of chemistry. We just click," Ponder said. "He finds ways to get open. He's such a big target. I have a lot of confidence throwing to him. This whole first day a lot of guys got open, a lot of guys made plays. I thought it was a really good first day."
It certainly was for guys names Ponder, Rudolph or Simpson.
THE OTHER SIDE
While Ponder looked sharp, the same wasn't true of his primary backup, Joe Webb
In the first two full-team sessions, when Ponder completed all 12 of his passes, Webb hit on only one of seven and had six straight incompletions, including four consecutive overthrows.
Eventually, Webb recovered in the third full-team session, hitting on all four of his passes there.
STICKING WITH SIMPSON
Simpson continued to impress in training camp, just like he had done throughout the offseason.
In addition to the diving catching he made from Ponder, he completely set up cornerback Chris Cook
during individual drills, putting a stop-and-go move on him that left Cook well behind Simpson on a 40-yard completion from Webb.
"I think he's a big threat to get down the field. He's athletic, he's really fast, and he really understands how to run routes," Ponder said of Simpson. "He knows how to get open. He knows how to change speeds in the middle of his route. He understands leverage against (defensive backs). He just really, really has a high football IQ."
A few plays later, Simpson sent cornerback Nick Taylor
, the converted point guard, to the ground when he tried to jam the big receiver at the line of scrimmage.
It wasn't all perfect for Simpson, however, as he and Ponder were on a different page during 7-on-7 work. Simpson cut a route short and Ponder threw over his head. Simpson raised his hand walking back to the line of scrimmage, indicating he had made the mistake.
Cornerback Josh Robison, the team's third-round pick, appeared to strain a hamstring during individual drills when covering Jarius Wright deep. Robinson didn't practice the rest of the afternoon session.
Receiver Kamar Jorden had the catch of The Opening day with a diving effort that drew the appreciation of the crowd.
Linebacker Erin Henderson got a laugh out of the crowd when he apparently had enough of fans that want to see all offense. During seven-on-seven work, the interest of the crowd was piqued when a long pass for Simpson was in the air. When it came down incomplete on a slightly overthrown pass, the crowd let out a loud groan. Henderson turned to the crowd and gave a good-natured mimicking groan, drawing laughter from those in the stands.
Whether it was the 3-13 record last year, the fact that the team won't wear full pads until Monday or that there was no formal autograph session, the stands were less than half full for the afternoon practice.
Ponder on the worst part about training camp: "There's no worst part. What are you talking about? We love training camp. We're here for 21 days. This is great. We love Gage Hall."
Robinson, Taylor, Marcus Sherels, Bryan Walters and Kerry Taylor all got work returning punts.
Brandon Fusco worked with the first team at right guard. He is expected to compete with free-agent acquisition Geoff Schwartz for the starting spot, and head coach Leslie Frazier said Chris DeGeare could still enter the competition there.
Eventually, first-round draft pick Harrison Smith should work his way into the starting lineup, but it was incumbent starters Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond working with the first-team defense during the opening day of camp.
Adrian Peterson said he didn't want to believe he would start training camp on the physically unable to perform list because of his surgically repaired left knee, but he figured he would end up there. He is "pretty confident" he will be ready for the regular-season opener on Sept. 9. His conversation trying to convince Frazier he could practice apparently didn't last long.
"It was short, brief. He shared his concerns and his thoughts. I shared mine," Peterson said. "Ultimately, I knew how the conversation was going that it wasn't going to go my way no matter what I thought. But I understand the decision."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.