The Vikings open the season in about 48 hours. We can't remember ever being quite as low-key about an opener as we are this year. Nevertheless, we know that when noon Sunday rolls around life will be good again and we'll be in front of the TV watching the purple. That's just the way it is.
How long life stays good -- i.e. how competitive this year's Vikings are -- depends on many factors. None, though, seem as singular as the second-year development of QB Christian Ponder. While we tend to believe Ponder will show progress this year toward being a capable, above-average NFL QB, we also fully acknowledge the season could go in either direction for him for these three reasons:
1) Even through a shaky rookie season -- one in which his development was stunted by the NFL labor situation and in which he was thrown into the fray earlier than expected because of Donovan McNabb's ineffectiveness -- Ponder at least showed flashes of strong play. He has the arm. He can run. He has the drive. Given a full year of development, he should be able to build on that with better numbers and far more consistent play.
2) Once Jerome Simpson is back from his three-game suspension, the Vikings should have more playmakers in the passing offense for Ponder to target. Simpson and Percy Harvin can make plays. Other wideouts can at least stretch the field. Tight ends Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson are capable targets. Add to that an offensive line that should at least be more cohesive than last year, and Ponder should be more comfortable in his ability to make things happen.
3) The Vikings' favorable early schedule should let Ponder get some confidence. If the defense is better -- which it should be -- Minnesota should at least be in most of the games during the first half of the season, putting Ponder in positions where he can run a balanced offense.
1) The preseason was hardly terrible -- 23 of 38 for 300-plus yards, one TD and one INT were Ponder's final numbers -- but the Vikings offense didn't inspire confidence in the all-important (trademark) third preseason game. Ponder can move the ball from 20 to 20, but pretty much any QB in the league should be able to do that. Cashing in from in close is the key. He was very good in the red zone in college; the verdict is still out in the pros.
2) Pocket awareness was a key issue last year. That must improve this year; there are signs that it is improving, but again the regular-season will be the determining factor. It's a somewhat innate skill. Awareness and accuracy can only be "taught" to a certain degree.
3) Ponder was knocked out of late games last season and needs to show that durability will not be a question. More than anything, he needs reps. He can't get those laid up on the bench.
Your thoughts, please, in the comments.