With mini-camp finished at Winter Park and 34 days left before the Vikings reconvene in Mankato for the start of training camp, quarterback Christian Ponder has time to detach from football for a bit. He’ll now enjoy some more alone time with new wife Samantha Steele Ponder and slip away from the microanalysis that stalks NFL quarterbacks at every turn.
So just how has Ponder fared over the past month, through 10 days of Organized Team Activities and three mini-camp practices?
As we’ve said all along, making bold proclamations one way or the other about Ponder’s performance is senseless at this stage of the year. Yes, we’ve noted some of the woeful interceptions Ponder threw during OTAs while also recognizing his heightened understanding of the offense and steady confidence.
We can also guarantee this: barring an injury, Ponder will be under center when the Vikings open the regular season Sept. 8 in Detroit. And it is at that point that we’ll begin to compile the most meaningful evidence for whether or not Ponder is ready to take a leap forward in his third year as a starter.
Until then, and no matter what happens throughout training camp, it’ll be impossible to truly measure Ponder’s long-term viability at quarterback.
Through the offseason, we’ve seen plenty of inconsistency from Ponder. And that’s probably more predictable than concerning, particularly with an overhauled receiving corps during a phase of preparation that includes plenty of experimentation.
In other words: have patience folks. The final verdict on Ponder is not yet in. And it won't be for a while.
The hope at Winter Park is that Ponder has positioned himself for a 2013 breakthrough. The worst-case scenario, of course, is that he's the worst kind of starting quarterback possible -- good enough to have big games that produce waves of hope but ultimately too inconsistent to ever get over the hump.
Still, as the Vikings separated for a five-week break, the internal optimism surrounding Ponder’s potential continued to percolate.
Following Thursday's final mini-camp practice, head coach Leslie Frazier lauded Ponder’s mental maturation.
“His football above the neck has been impressive in the time that we've been out here on the field practicing,” Frazier said. “He's got the athletic ability, but you want him to make good decisions under center. And some of the things he's done in these practices kind of leads me to believe, along with our staff, that he's grown a lot in that area.”
As evidence, Frazier noted that Ponder has been more assertive in communicating with his linemen, running backs and receivers, using his highly touted intelligence to aid the growth of the group.
Said Frazier: “He knows our entire offense. But it helps the rest of our players when they see him take charge and say, 'You know, I want you to be at this spot when you're going out for a route.' Or if you're an offensive tackle, 'Hey, you've got to make sure you block the three-technique [tackle].' Guys kind of appreciate that. They feel like, 'OK, this guy not only knows his responsibilities, but he understands what I have to get done, as well.' So that's part of the maturation that we're seeing. And the next step would be for him to have early success. And of course, his teammates will continue to gain more confidence when that happens."