Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Vikings 2013 look ahead: Quarterbacks

Posted by: Mark Craig under On the road, Quarterbacks, Vikings, Lions, NFC, NFL draft, Packers, Leslie Frazier, Adrian Peterson, Leslie Frazier, Percy Harvin, Sage Rosenfels Updated: January 20, 2013 - 10:50 AM
The Vikings coaching staff and front office are in the process of fully evaluating their roster as they plan for the opening of free agency in March as well as April’s NFL Draft. As General Manager Rick Spielman, head coach Leslie Frazier and their respective staffs put their heads together, the Access Vikings team is doing the same. We are in the middle of delivering snapshot evaluations of every position group. Today, we look at the quarterbacks.
 
QUARTERBACKS
 
Get excited: The word “excited” is a little too strong a word to use while discussing starter Christian Ponder. But even the most stubborn anti-Ponders among us would – or should – admit privately that Ponder’s final month of the regular season was “encouraging.”
After literally throwing away the first Green Bay game with two ridiculous interceptions at Lambeau Field on Dec. 2, Ponder pulled it together in a way that had to surprise even his most blindly optimistic supporters. Needing to win their final four games – including two on the road and one at home against a Packers team that had won 12 straight division games – the Vikings went 4-0 because Ponder complemented Adrian Peterson’s greatness with exactly the kind of efficient, alert, ball-secure play the Vikings currently ask of him.
Ponder threw only one interception in the final four games and closed the regular season with his best game as a professional. Knowing it was a win-and-you’re-in-the-playoffs situation against the Packers, Ponder had a career-high 120.2 passer rating, tied a career high with three touchdown passes and didn’t turn the ball over. How is that not impressive?
Unfortunately for the Vikings, they’ll never know how much more shocking their 10-win season could have been had Ponder not injured the triceps/elbow on his throwing arm and missed the playoffs. But one thing became abundantly clear early on in that wild-card loss at Green Bay: Without Ponder, the 2012 Vikings had absolutely zero chance of beating a quality team.
Overall, this season was another pogo-stick ride with Ponder at the handlebars. But the good moments outnumbered the bad.
Remember the unthinkable comeback in Week 1 against the Jaguars? The 94.7 passer rating in the upset of the 49ers in Week 3? Starting the year with four interception-free games? The 114.2 passer rating in that Week 10 win over the Lions? The first drives down the stretch against Chicago, at St. Louis, at Houston and the Packers?
There were bad moments, too. Bad enough that maybe Ponder won’t prove to be this team’s quarterback for the next decade. But he made enough progress to prove that he’s the answer in 2013.
Some critics will never buy that. And that’s fine. But Ponder did help this team win 10 games. And he did it with a thin receiving corps that lost its only playmaker (Percy Harvin) in Week 9.
 
Keep an eye on: If nothing else, the playoff loss proved Joe Webb as Ponder’s primary backup is a flawed plan for a contending team.
So now what?
McLeod Bethel-Thompson isn’t ready to step up from No. 3 QB. And fans need to let go of Sage Rosenfels. Folks, he’s not coming back. Let … it … go.
The Vikings will at least explore alternative options for a No. 2 QB in 2013. But THEY WON’T BE LOOKING FOR ANYONE TO COMPETE WITH CHRISTIAN PONDER. So that rules out acquiring Alex Smith, so let go of that one, too.
And, no, Joe Flacco isn’t a possibility. His contract is up after this season, but … he … isn’t … leaving … Baltimore.
Remember, the Vikings are looking at experienced veteran backups who will be available in free agency. They aren’t elite QBs. They’re guys like Derek Anderson, Matt Moore, David Carr, Matt Leinart, Byron Leftwich, Bruce Gradkowski, Jason Campbell and Rex Grossman.
We’ll assume the Vikings will pass on a T-Jack reunion.
 
Reason for worry: Granted, it’s asking a lot to have a guy start a playoff game at Lambeau Field after not attempting a pass all season. But the very nature of playing backup quarterback requires one to possess the ability to hold down the proverbial fort while knowing your opportunities are going to be few and far between.
Webb never has been an accurate passer. He’s a big, fast athlete who was drafted in the sixth round to play receiver. But his inability to throw with any shred of accuracy in the playoff game was alarming and added another bullet point to GM Rick Spielman’s offseason To-Do List.
If anything, Webb has regressed as a passer during his three years of NFL tutoring. And that has thrust the Vikings into an offseason predicament that they never expected to be facing when the left the Metrodome after clinching that unlikely playoff berth back on Dec. 30.
This decision has many layers and reasons to worry. Webb still has value as an athlete and someone with potential to run the read-option attack that’s spreading throughout the league. Finding a way to use him could really help an offense that needs more playmakers and unpredictability.
Therefore, the Vikings could go back to an earlier plan that positioned Webb as the No. 3 QB behind a more experienced veteran backup. In that spot, the risk of injury would be diminished, so Webb’s speed and athleticism could be used in some capacity other than holding a clipboard on game day.
Of course, going that route would mean the Vikings just wasted a year developing Bethel-Thompson. MBT is a player the coaches really like. He might have the best arm on the team and could work his way up to No. 2 with more seasoning.
So the Vikings head into 2013 with their starter set, but still have a lot of questions to answer behind him.

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Tennessee 13 FINAL
Jacksonville 21
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
New York 97 FINAL
Chicago 103
New Orleans 99 FINAL
Houston 90
Milwaukee 108 FINAL
Sacramento 107
Oklahoma City 109 FINAL
Golden State 114
Florida 2 FINAL(SO)
Philadelphia 1
Colorado 0 FINAL(OT)
Pittsburgh 1
Toronto 1 FINAL
Carolina 4
Washington 5 FINAL(OT)
Columbus 4
Anaheim 2 FINAL
Montreal 1
St. Louis 4 FINAL
Los Angeles 6
Edmonton 3 FINAL
San Jose 4
St Thomas (TX) 61 FINAL
Rice 72
Stony Brook 59 FINAL
Canisius 60
Temple 82 FINAL
Delaware 62
FIU 58 FINAL
Long Island 69
Lehigh 65 FINAL
Quinnipiac 80
South Alabama 54 FINAL
Richmond 65
Seton Hall 89 FINAL
South Florida 69
Ga Southern 76 FINAL
Stetson 67
Yale 57 FINAL
Vermont 56
Cleveland State 54 FINAL
Virginia 70
Wright State 69 FINAL
Western Carolina 56
Nicholls 54 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 79
Morgan State 48 FINAL
Rider 62
Idaho State 72 FINAL
South Dakota St 75
Oakland City 52 FINAL
Austin Peay 76
Eureka 38 FINAL
Bradley 80
Appalachian St 65 FINAL
Charlotte 75
Connecticut 56 FINAL
Duke 66
Southern Miss 46 FINAL
Jackson State 66
Coastal Carolina 68 FINAL
Ole Miss 71
Montana State 53 FINAL
South Dakota 55
LSU 79 FINAL
UAB 70
Ohio 69 FINAL
Evansville 81
CS-Dominguez 50 FINAL
Cal State Fullerton 72
Walla Walla 39 FINAL
Idaho 86
DePaul 59 FINAL
Oregon State 90
Nevada 65 FINAL
Pacific 69
Portland State 40 FINAL
San Francisco 77
CS-Bakersfield 56 FINAL
Utah State 57
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Niagara 76 FINAL
Cleveland State 58
High Point 59 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 81
Towson 64 FINAL
Wake Forest 74
Presbyterian 50 FINAL
Charlotte 66
Chicago State 62 FINAL
Bradley 59
Northwestern Coll 58 FINAL
Drake 102
Vanderbilt 67 FINAL
Marquette 80
Temple 78 FINAL
Howard 48
Southern Miss 66 FINAL
Ole Miss 68
UMBC 55 FINAL
Rider 67
Miami-Florida 74 FINAL
UCLA 67
St Mary-KS 51 FINAL
South Dakota 115
William & Mary 71 FINAL
Wofford 51
Troy 82 FINAL
Evansville 94
Loyola Marymount 54 FINAL
USC 96
St Francis-PA 52 FINAL
Duquesne 92
Indiana-Southeast 45 FINAL
IUPUI 95
Delaware State 52 FINAL
Detroit 74
Tenn Temple 48 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 68
West Virginia St 58 FINAL
Radford 52
Fairfield 47 FINAL
Seton Hall 79
Dartmouth 44 FINAL
New Hampshire 60
Ball State 47 FINAL
Pittsburgh 59
Jacksonville 61 FINAL
Tennessee St 64
Trine 45 FINAL
Western Mich 81
Tenn Tech 53 FINAL
Lipscomb 72
Samford 56 FINAL
Tulane 57
New Orleans 55 FINAL
Tulsa 78
Incarnate Word 61 FINAL
TX-Pan American 65
Ark-Little Rock 42 FINAL
South Dakota St 67
CS-Northridge 77 FINAL
Northern Ariz 71
Santa Clara 88 FINAL
Oregon 92
(19) Oklahoma St 55 FINAL
Weber State 49
Washington 69 FINAL
San Diego State 48
Cal Poly 68 FINAL
New Mexico 84
(10) Louisville 65 FINAL
Grand Canyon 51

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