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Christian Ponder scrambled for yardage.

Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

Hartman: Musgrave says Ponder 'is making strides'

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN
  • Star Tribune
  • December 21, 2012 - 7:20 AM

While the local media continue to hammer the Vikings' Christian Ponder, former NFL MVP and current TV commentator Rich Gannon said he has talked to coaches who believe that for a second-year quarterback, Ponder's performance is more than adequate.

Furthermore, I have very good relations with some NFL coaches whose teams have faced Ponder, and they agree that the No. 7 overall pick in the 2011 draft has shown great improvement in his second season.

True, he hasn't matched the performance of three rookie quarterbacks -- the Redskins' Robert Griffin III, the Seahawks' Russell Wilson and the Colts' Andrew Luck, all of whom defeated the Vikings earlier this season -- but they are certainly exceptions.

Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave coached Matt Ryan as a first-round draft choice in Atlanta. And while the Falcons quarterback, the No. 3 pick in the 2008 draft, now rates with the NFL's best, Musgrave said he struggled at times in his first two seasons before developing into a consistent, reliable quarterback who helped make the Falcons one of the league's best teams.

"Ryan, his first year, you know he stubbed his toe at times, stubbed his toe his second year as well," Musgrave said. "But he learned from his mistakes and grew in the position."

Musgrave was asked to compare Ryan and Ponder at the same stage. "I think they both are very bright, tremendous athletes, they really love the game of football and it shows," he said.

"I think everybody learns a different way, and everyone has different rates of progress. It's exciting to see so many good young quarterbacks in the league right now who are playing well. [Ponder] has been asked to do some things down in the red area, as well as on third down, and he has come through for us."

Ponder has been criticized for his footwork in games, so what does he have to do to improve his game?

"When you throw a football, it starts with your foundation, so your feet set up your rhythm, your tempo and your balance," Musgrave said. "I think that's an ongoing process for most, if not all, quarterbacks to remain consistent and accurate."

Musgrave said that like every quarterback, Ponder is in the spotlight.

"He's a young player. This is his first year of having an entire offseason and getting to start each and every game," Musgrave said. "He's young and has a lot to learn, but he's making strides each and every day.

"There's a lot of good young quarterbacks in this league who are playing. They take their lumps at times, but they come away with victories as well. It has been fun to watch all these guys develop these last couple of years."

Having a back like Adrian Peterson limits what the quarterback is involved in, Musgrave said.

"It just depends, yeah, we're running the ball well," he said, "and the quarterback is asked to make a play maybe not as frequently as other teams, and sometimes that's more difficult. It's hard to get in a rhythm that way, too. That adds a degree of difficulty at times."

Musgrave praised Ponder for his performance the last two games.

"We're on a good stretch right now," he said. "The last two games we've played pretty clean and made some plays when we had to, but we definitely have not beaten ourselves."

Gray healthy

Gophers football coach Jerry Kill is not going to announce his starting quarterback for the Dec. 28 Meineke Car Care Bowl game against Texas Tech, so the Red Raiders don't have the opportunity to prepare accordingly.

Kill might be saying that Philip Nelson will start, but if you want my opinion, I don't think there's any doubt that senior MarQueis Gray, who is 100 percent healthy, will start and give the Gophers their best chance to win.

"You know, right now Philip Nelson is our starting quarterback, but MarQueis, I would tell you this is the first time he's been really healthy since we started the season," Kill said. "We want to keep the redshirt on Mitch Leidner, so [Gray] is working at quarterback. He'll certainly be used sufficiently in a lot of situations. But he's too good of an athlete to be standing over next to me [on the sideline]. We'll certainly utilize him, I'm just excited about seeing him healthy and moving around.

"He's doing a great job. We look forward to having a healthy MarQueis Gray in the bowl game, and that will help our football team, there's no question about that."

Jottings

• There will be two players with interesting ties to the opposing teams at the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Eric Stephens Jr., a Red Raiders running back with 414 yards rushing and five touchdowns on 84 carries this season, originally committed to Minnesota before changing his mind and going to Texas Tech. Then there is Gophers linebacker Keanon Cooper, who played at Skyline High School in Dallas and committed to Texas Tech before changing his mind and coming to Minnesota.

• Gophers basketball recruit Alvin Ellis is playing in some high-profile tournaments and recently had a stellar effort at the Midwest Showdown Shootout in St. Charles, Mo. Ellis's team, De La Salle Institute in Illinois, lost 60-54 to East St. Louis, but St. Louis Today described his night this way: "De La Salle (6-2) got a dazzling 33 points from Ellis, a 6-3 University of Minnesota signee who was able to drive to the basket and finish in traffic time and time again despite the Flyers' physical defense."

• Through five games with Reno of the NBA Development League, former Gophers forward Ralph Sampson III is averaging 1.2 points and 2.0 rebounds in 8.4 minutes of action per game.

• Former Gophers guard Lawrence Westbrook is leading Kazrin/Galil of Israel's National Basketball League in scoring through nine games. Westbrook is averaging 19.7 points on 59.8 percent shooting, 3.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists.

• Other ex-Gophers: Dusty Rychart is playing a limited role for Cairns Taipans in Australia's National Basketball League, averaging 3.5 points and 1.9 rebounds in 10.4 minutes per game. ... Rick Rickert signed with Osaka Evessa in Japan in late November and has played two stellar games, averaging 17.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists in 36 minutes per game.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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