Christian Ponder said he has been medically cleared to play Sunday and that the Vikings coaching staff has informed him and the other quarterbacks who will start against Carolina.
Ponder deferred to coach Leslie Frazier to reveal that information, but it wasn’t difficult to discern that Matt Cassel will make his second start in a row with Ponder serving as his backup.
Ponder’s disappointment was evident Thursday when asked about everything that’s happened the past 10 days.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say it’s a little disappointing and frustrating,” Ponder said after practice. “But I’m not going to get too discouraged about it. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what the next few weeks, few months hold. We’ll see how everything plays out.”
A few minutes later, Frazier said he hasn’t made a decision on his starter and that he plans to do so Friday. Frazier was told that Ponder disclosed that he knows the plan and that his body language and tone indicated that he’s not the starter.
“It’s not an open competition, but I want to make sure that I’m doing the right thing,” Frazier said. “When we go through practice [Friday], see where those guys are and just try to do the best thing for our team.”
The mixed message was another odd development in a strange week at Winter Park. Frazier initially said that Ponder is the starter if healthy, but the Vikings signed free agent Josh Freeman and will keep Cassel as the starter for at least one more game.
Ponder missed the Pittsburgh game in London after suffering a fractured rib the previous week. He said he is still experiencing some “stiffness and a little bit of pain” but that he’s “definitely” healthy enough to play. Even so, Cassel worked with the first-team offense in practice this week.
Cassel did not throw an incompletion in 10 second-half attempts against the Steelers and passed for 248 yards and two touchdowns in leading the Vikings to their first victory.
Meanwhile, Freeman is getting a crash course on the team’s offense and presumably will take over once he’s comfortable with the system.
The organization’s actions this week — regardless of what is said publicly — indicate that Ponder’s tenure appears to be nearing its end. Even Ponder acknowledged that “some of the dynamics of this organization have changed” with Freeman’s arrival.
“It’s a waste of energy and thought to think about what could happen and what might not happen,” Ponder said. “I’m just trying to enjoy these moments because life in the NFL doesn’t last long. You’ve got to enjoy every minute of it, even when things aren’t going the best. And I’m going to see how it plays out. It’ll be interesting to see.”
The NFL trade deadline is Oct. 29, but Ponder said a trade “would be difficult to deal with.” Ponder said he has had some conversations with Frazier and Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman about his future, but he maintained that he is focused only on things he can control.
“I spent a little time worrying about it and realized that that’s no good and it’s not going to help me out,” he said. “So my focus is what I can control and that’s getting healthy, which I have been doing, and getting better on the football field, which I feel like I’ve been doing.”
The Vikings drafted Ponder 12th overall in 2011 with the hope that he would become their long-term quarterback. Now he’s no longer the starter and his future with the team seems uncertain.
“I have no idea what’s going to happen,” Ponder said. “I hope to still be here. It’s the front office’s call. You never know — as we’ve seen the past week — what’s going to happen.”