MANKATO - Christian Ponder sure seems dedicated to proving he'll do just about anything to help the team. On Thursday, the day the Vikings reported to training camp at Minnesota State University, the second-year quarterback hung back in the Twin Cities until the early afternoon, waiting for a key passenger in his carpool.
That buddy -- rookie left tackle Matt Kalil -- first needed clearance before heading for Mankato.
But as the finishing details were being typed into Kalil's first contract -- a four-year deal likely worth around $20 million -- Ponder sprung into action, picking Kalil up at the airport, driving him directly to Winter Park to sign the paperwork, and then pointing their joyride south on Hwy. 169.
"Yeah, I call Christian up any time and he picks me up and takes me places," Kalil joked as he checked into Gage Hall.
Not that Ponder wasn't lobbying for more than just some added pocket protection. He also wanted it noted that Kalil's agent, Tom Condon, wasn't the only one instrumental in finishing the deal.
"If Tom Condon takes 3 percent of his contract, I should take at least a half a percent," Ponder said.
Anyway you spin it, Vikings fans can breathe a sigh of relief.
The team's new standout left tackle is in camp. On time. Without missing so much as a meeting, something coach Leslie Frazier asserted was "a big deal."
And that wasn't the only development Thursday that had exuberance levels high.
Another bullet dodged: Five weeks after requesting a trade and hinting his punctual arrival at training camp wasn't a given, receiver Percy Harvin checked in with no drama.
Adrian Peterson also arrived, exuding his usual gusto and vowing to return to practice as soon as the medical staff will clear him.
"I'm going to lobby to get out there and be involved some," Peterson said. "To what extent I don't know. But I feel like I can participate a little bit."
Getting well fast
Peterson likely will start camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list, a designation that can be removed at any time before the regular season starts. That means his early activity would come on the side, supervised by head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman.
Peterson, who had surgery after a serious left knee injury suffered on Christmas Eve, understood that was the most likely scenario but was still vowing to fight deep into Thursday night for his right to practice soon if not immediately.
"To be honest with you, I'm going to try to fight against [the PUP list] so I can get out there and be involved," he said. "But I know these guys are going to do what's best for this team."
In the big picture, even as the Vikings wisely use caution with Peterson, it's remarkable how far he has come in his recovery. Monday will mark seven months since the surgery. And yet the star running back diagnosed himself Thursday as "full-go."
"I'm pretty much doing everything," he said. "Cutting. Running. Jumping. It's different when you put pads on and you have guys diving at your legs and you're making these second cuts based off the instincts of the game. So that aspect I haven't really had a lot to practice with. And that's really what I want."
Peterson's spirits won't likely be questioned at any time during camp, his needle permanently stuck on "Cheery and Optimistic." The same can't be said definitively for Harvin, who likely will undergo a requisite mood check with reporters Friday.
Upon checking into camp Thursday, Harvin didn't stop to talk. Which left Frazier to again publicly address the melodrama from June.
Frazier indicated he talked to Harvin several times in the past month, even bumping into him by surprise this week at Dick's Sports Barbers in Eden Prairie and leaving with the feeling that "all is good."
"[Our chairs] weren't right next to each other," Frazier said. "But we pulled them closer so we could be close to each other."
Frazier said he has made it clear he wants Harvin to remain a team leader and "be the Percy that we all know." Which means that distractions like last month's mini-controversy won't easily be tolerated.
Said Frazier: "If he can continue to be that person that his teammates can trust and can count on and do the things he has done for us in the past, I won't see any problems with Percy. Because we know that he loves the game. He has a passion for the game. He wants to bring a championship to Minnesota. And when that's the case, we can all work towards the same common goal."
Right now, one of the biggest goals the Vikings have is to establish chemistry within a young team and hopefully plant the seeds for a long-term rise. The formula calls for talent plus continuity plus dedication.
That's why Harvin's on-time arrival was key; why Peterson's improving health will be watched closely; and why Ponder's concern for Kalil -- complete with chauffeur duties -- had a certain charm.
"That's what is so exciting about this team," Ponder said. "We're so young. And a lot of us could be together for a long time."
A long time starts with three weeks in Mankato.
Dan Wiederer • email@example.com