The Vikings will start Josh Freeman Monday night after working this week to get him up to speed,…
Ponder reluctantly adjusting to backup life
Former starter Christian Ponder left the field with shoulders slumped and his helmet still on, clearly giving the impression of a player who is disappointed and depressed. In a season that started with such promise and confidence from both the part of Ponder and the coaching staff, just five games into the 2013 season, not only is Ponder not the starter, there are growing rumors that he will likely be out of Minnesota at some point.
It has been a roller coaster of emotions for Ponder. He's been booed loudly by the home fans. He was replaced – ostensibly due a rib injury – by Matt Cassel, who went from Week 4 starter to No. 3 on the depth chart in four days. Ponder is now the backup and he is looking to remain a team player despite suffering an individual setback.
"The biggest thing is just focusing on what you can control," Ponder said. "That's how I practice and how I prepare. You let everything run its course and you try and figure out what's the best situation for yourself and for you family and see what's going to happen going forward."
Ponder was introspective about his diminished role with the offense, saying that he realizes why the Vikings have been making changes at quarterback – Freeman will be the third different starter in four games. Ponder came to the reluctant realization that he is going to be in "next man up" mode, just as Cassel was for him before getting his opportunity and where both of them are now with Freeman in the fold.
"You understand that it's not about you, it's about the team," Ponder said. "For me, it's understanding that there are things that I can work on at practice and get better at. I still focus myself and what I can do. But the reality is people's jobs are on the line and we have to win games. Otherwise, people's families are affected. This is the ultimate team game – not for players, but as coaches."
Head coach Leslie Frazier didn't anoint Freeman as the permanent starter per se, but his words in discussing Ponder were couched in terms of him being the backup this week and moving forward.
"For this season and for this ballgame – primarily this ballgame – he's going to be our backup quarterback," Frazier said. "There's still so much more football to be played. There are so many things that can happen to the remaining parts of this season. I don't want to pigeon-hole Christian in any way, but we're hoping (Freeman) does well. That's why we're putting him in the lineup. If something were to happen and Christian had to get in there, we'd expect Christian to play well also."
The biggest problem for Ponder attempting to win his job back is that, unlike training camp and the preseason quarterbacks vying for a starting job while splitting time with the first-team starters, during the regular season it's a different story. The No. 2 QB might take just a handful of snaps a day with the first-team offense. Given the crash course Freeman is getting in the Vikings offense, there may not be any snaps for Ponder with the first unit – making his chance of winning the job back likely contingent on either injury or brutal play by Freeman.
"Everyone wants to be that first-team guy – the starters – and be playing," Ponder said. "You have to earn it. I'm going to do what I can in practice to show that I can be out there starting and get the job."
With the trade deadline approaching next week, there have been rumors that Ponder or Cassel might get traded. Asked if he would welcome a trade, Ponder was non-committal but didn't close the door to the opportunity.
"I don't know," Ponder said. "I have to figure out what's best for me and for this team. I don't know if that's staying here or going somewhere else."
Frazier discounted any potential to trade Ponder. While general manager Rick Spielman is in charge of trading players for draft picks or other players, Frazier doesn't envision the Vikings cutting ties with Ponder at midseason.
"That's never crossed my mind that Christian wouldn't be on our roster," Frazier said. "It's not crossing my mind now. I don't see any scenario where he would not be on our roster."
It seems clear that the Vikings are moving in a new direction and that the job that was once Ponder's to lose is now Freeman's to lose. If he performs well, it could be his job in both the short-term and the long-term. Does Ponder fit in that future?
"I don't know what's going on, what the decisions are," Ponder said. "They're trying to figure out what's best for this team. I really don't know."
As most backups or supplanted starters are wont to say, Ponder is preparing for the Giants the same way he did for the Lions, Bears and Browns back when he was the unquestioned starter. Is he depressed about the recent turn of events? Definitely. Is he going to let it affect how he prepares for Monday's game with the Giants? He says no. He knows as well as anyone that the call to duty can come at any time, especially at quarterback. If and when his second chance comes, he wants to be prepared and ready to reclaim his starting spot if the opportunity arises.
"It's a crazy game," Ponder said. "There are injuries. We're trying to scramble to find ways to win. I'm preparing as if I'm going to be playing and I'll be ready to go."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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