Christian Ponder spent a sizable chunk of Wednesday’s minicamp watching Matt Cassel spin passes to starting receivers Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson and shove footballs into Adrian Peterson’s belly. And he has heard the whispers that the Vikings could soon draft their next quarterback of the future.
But Ponder said he believes he will get a chance to compete to be their quarterback of the present.
“I think the expectation is that [Cassel is] going to be a starter. But for me, I’m competing for the job. That’s what’s going on in my mind. It’s a competition,” Ponder said. “It’s a clean slate for all of us. I don’t think any of the coaches have made a decision about what’s going on yet, but hopefully the best guy gets to play.”
New Vikings coach Mike Zimmer hasn’t officially come out and declared Cassel the starter. After all, it is early May and the NFL draft is a week away. But in March, the Vikings gave Cassel 10 million reasons to believe he would enter offseason workouts as the starter. And they are expected to add another quarterback to the mix during the NFL draft, maybe even with the eighth overall pick.
“I want to see somebody that can lead the football team, No. 1,” Zimmer said when asked what he is looking for from the position. “Guys that can execute under pressure. Guys that can lead us in the fourth quarter when the game’s on the line. But also make sure they know what everybody else is doing and kind of be the extension of [offensive coordinator] Norv [Turner] when we’re on the field.”
A lot has changed in a year for Ponder, who entered last spring as the unquestioned starter after showing promise while steering the Vikings into the playoffs in his second season.
He tossed nine interceptions and lost four fumbles in nine starts last season as the Vikings played musical quarterbacks. Ponder, who threw only seven touchdown passes, lost his starting spot for good when he suffered a concussion in Week 13, opening the door for Cassel, who played well enough to start the final four games.
Looking back, Ponder acknowledged it was a disappointment and lamented the “dumb decisions” that led to turnovers. He said he wasn’t certain if the Vikings would even bring him back for 2014, and they haven’t told him if they plan to pick up his fifth-year option for 2015. But since he is still here, he is focused on reclaiming his starting job.
“I would expect from how the coaches are talking that the best guy is going to play,” he said.
Meanwhile, Cassel, who worked with the first-team offense in 11-on-11 drills Wednesday, isn’t taking anything for granted, even after the team re-signed him to a two-year, $10 million deal.
“This is a new coaching staff, a new regime, and you never know what is going to happen,” Cassel said. “You have to come out and earn it. The fact of the matter is that they haven’t seen me practice, and I haven’t been around them and it’s a new system.”
Turner’s offensive system — built on the running game, play-action and deeper throws — is much different from former coordinator Bill Musgrave’s and has completely different terminology. Ponder estimated that 85 percent of the offense will be installed during this three-day voluntary minicamp.
But while the Vikings players, quarterbacks included, are learning on the fly, Zimmer has said the coaching staff is evaluating players, and what they see this week on the practice field could alter their draft plans.
Ponder is hopeful he and Cassel show enough to keep the Vikings from adding another young quarterback such as Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater or Johnny Manziel.
“Whatever happens, it’s a competition,” Ponder said. “Whether it’s Joe Montana or someone else here, it’s a competition.’’