VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell of SportsData, Arif Hasan of Vikings Territory, Aj Mansour, who hosts Minnesota Vikings Overtime on KFAN, and Joe Oberle a long-time Minnesota based writer. The VikesCentric crew crunches numbers, watches video and isn't shy about saying what's on their minds.

Posts about Vikings coaches

VikesCentric: Too soon to panic?

Posted by: Updated: September 9, 2013 - 1:09 AM
Week 1 is in the books, and the Vikings are one giant step closer to answering the only question that really matters in 2013. Unfortunately, that giant step is in the direction they'd hoped not to be headed.
 
By the end of the season, this franchise absolutely must know – no ifs, ands or buts – whether Christian Ponder is capable of being The Man under center for an NFL team. He's got 16 games to show what he can do, and given that he was their No. 1 draft pick just three years ago, he'll probably get plenty of leash to answer that question. But on Sunday, the first set of meaningful data was applied to the equation, and thus far the answer is a resounding NO.
 
Don't be fooled by the numbers – 18-for-28 for 236 yards isn't bad, and in fact, the Vikings could win a lot of games if Ponder can match those stats on a consistent basis. Dig just a little deeper and you'll see three interceptions (with a fourth – a guaranteed pick-six – dropped) and a lost fumble (with another overturned by a penalty). His quarterback rating of 63.1 recalled the midseason crater that almost kept the Vikings out of the playoffs last year.
 
And then there's the eye test. I know fans and media members alike often get caught up in the search for intangibles like "swagger" and "leadership" that, often as not, are pointed out after the fact once a player has had a good game. But if there's a position in sports where those intangibles are necessary, it's at quarterback. And so far, Ponder hasn't shown any of it. Whether he's underthrowing open receivers on deep routes, getting happy feet in the pocket while going through his reads, or shrugging his way through a postgame press conference, this isn't a guy who seems comfortable with the idea of putting a team on his shoulders for four quarters or even for one drive. Shrinking violets don't tend to fare well in pressure positions.
 
So, is it time for Vikings fans to panic? Before we go too crazy, let's take a look at a few factors that suggest Ponder deserves a bit more rope:
 
1. Bill Musgrave – It's always easy to blame the offensive coordinator when your favorite squad can't move the ball, and complaining about the play-calling is a tradition that dates back to the days of leather helmets. But there are a few ways Musgrave can help quiet the calls for Matt Cassel or MBT. Ponder's accuracy has been suspect at best, so it's time to eliminate some of the more dangerous throws from the gameplan until that improves. His first interception on Sunday came on a slant pattern to Jerome Simpson that was off-target – not by much, but when your receiver is surrounded by defenders two yards off the line of scrimmage, anything short of 100 percent accuracy is an interception waiting to happen. And while we're on the topic of accuracy, how about we eliminate the rollout to the left? Ponder has shown his entire career that he can't make that pass consistently. So why call it on 3rd-and-1. Musgrave seems intent on making Ponder run his system, rather than creating a system that minimizes his flaws. If Ponder is going to save his job, he'll need help from his OC.
 
2. Better offensive line play – Throughout the preseason we heard excuses for Ponder's shaky play that often centered on the offensive line. You don't gameplan for an opponent in the preseason, or so we were told, so it's not fair to expect the line to handle unique blitz packages until the regular season begins. Well, it's begun, and the o-line play was just as inconsistent on Sunday as it was in the preseason. After springing Adrian Peterson for a 78-yard touchdown on their first play, the line managed to escort Peterson 15 yards downfield on 17 carries. Ponder was sacked three times and scrambled four other times for 12 yards total. And he coughed up a fumble when guard Brandon Fusco tripped him on his dropback after being blown off the line at the snap. If the five guys up front can't play better than they did on Sunday, it won't matter who's under center – it's going to be ugly.
 
3. It's just one game – As football fans, we tend to overreact to a loss because it's another whole week before the team gets to show whether it was a trend or a mirage. One NFL game is 1/16 of a season, so in essence one loss is like a 10-game losing streak in baseball. But take a look around the league – a lot of good teams, or at least teams with high hopes – are 0-1: Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, the Giants, the Packers, and the loser of Monday night's Washington-Philadelphia game. Nobody's season is over yet. With a win in Chicago next week, the Vikings would be no worse than tied with the Bears and Packers, one game behind Detroit.
 
So, back to the question in the headline – is it time to panic? Probably not. But after his performance on Sunday, Ponder's leash suddenly got a lot tighter.
 
 
Patrick Donnelly is a contributor to the Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

VikesCentric: Four Who Flashed vs. Buffalo

Posted by: Updated: August 16, 2013 - 10:59 PM

We've started a new feature here at VikesCentric for the hotly awaited 2013 preseason (also known as the NFL's annual festival of gouging season-ticket holders by charging full price for a glorified scrimmage). We're calling it "Four Who Flashed" because "flashing" is our favorite preseason football cliché. No, it has nothing to do with Dino Ciccarelli (but just to be safe, don't read this with your garage door open). It's a buzzword used by the likes of Mike Mayock to describe a player who showed tremendous ability on the football field, perhaps even rising beyond expectations to merit extra attention. And we're limiting it to the preseason because in the regular season we'd have to call it "Adrian Peterson and Three Other Guys" – though we discussed tweaking it in Week 1 and calling it "While You Were Having Your Breath Taken Away by Adrian Peterson" to highlight the work of one of the less-heralded 52 Vikings. Honestly, we're still workshopping it. Stay tuned. 

So without further delay, here are the Four Who Flashed on Friday night against the Bills: 

1. Jeff Locke – Last week the rookie punter put up some pedestrian numbers (38.2-yard average on five kicks), mostly because he was usually kicking from midfield and trying to pin the Texans deep in their own territory. Still, he had a couple of chances to show off his big leg and didn't really come through. On Friday, the offense's struggles gave him more opportunities to prove special teams coordinator Mike Priefer right, and he came through with a big night. Locke punted seven times for a 48.9-yard average, dropped three punts inside the 10 and had a couple of bombs, including a 61-yarder. Blair Walsh showed last year that having elite special teams can help a good-but-not-great team overachieve. Locke could be the latest rookie to push the Vikings' kicking game over the top. 

2. Bobby Felder – The rookie free agent from Nicholls State is probably going to have a hard time cracking the 53-man roster, but if he keeps playing special teams like he did on Friday, the Vikings might have to find a spot for him. He calmly downed two of Locke's punts inside Buffalo's 5-yard line, and when the Vikings needed a big return to set up their final possession, he fielded a punt inside his own 10 (usually a no-no, but this is the preseason, where a guy like Felder is trying to make a name for himself) and brought it back 37 yards to set the offense up near midfield. Add in six tackles and suddenly you've got a guy who might be picking up some steam as we head to roster cutdown day. 

3. Toby Gerhart – The Vikings know what they have in Gerhart: a no-nonsense back who can do a little bit of everything but rarely gets to show his skills because of that Peterson fellow. This preseason is Gerhart's chance to audition for other teams – he's in his walk year and there's likely no way the Vikings bring him back, barring something catastrophic happening to Peterson that we hesitate to even write about so let's just forget we even said anything. On Friday, Gerhart showcased his pile-driving ability with a 9-yard run that was pretty much two yards of running and seven yards of shoving the defense backward just by keeping his feet moving. On the next play, Gerhart nimbly side-stepped a would-be tackler and converted a third-and-1 to move the chains on the first-team offense's only scoring drive. Gerhart's agent would do well to send that two-play snippet to any GM wondering about his client's versatility. 

4. Kyle Rudolph – The term "catch radius" was invented with Rudolph in mind. Basically, you throw it anywhere within five yards of this guy and he's going to find a way to catch it. He hauled in three balls from Christian Ponder including a leaping grab on the run that he took downfield for 25 yards. In fact, the one ball that hit him in the gut was the only one he dropped. He's such a unique talent – the trick will be making sure Ponder has enough time to find him (he usually didn't on Friday) and enough accuracy to get the ball somewhere remotely near his favorite tight end. Rudolph will take care of the rest.  

 

Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, a contributor to the Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

VikesCentric: You're questioning Ponder's toughness?

Posted by: Updated: January 11, 2013 - 11:43 AM

In the week that's passed since the Vikings' season-ending Wild Card defeat at Green Bay, a disturbing – but predictable – phenomenon has been on display in the world of social media: the trashing of Christian Ponder's reputation for having the audacity to miss a playoff game due to an injury to his throwing arm.

Actually, the criticism of Ponder started almost immediately after the Vikings announced he would not be active for Saturday's game. His deactivation was a surprising development, no doubt, thanks mostly to Vikings officials and Ponder himself downplaying the seriousness of his triceps injury throughout the week. A few local scribes wondered if Leslie Frazier's leaving the door slightly open to the possibility of Ponder not playing was just a case of Belichickian subterfuge designed to force the Packers to prepare for both Ponder and Joe Webb. But until word of Ponder's truncated pregame warmup trickled out, no one in their right mind thought he would actually miss the game.

Thus, when Webb was named as the starter 90 minutes before the game, Twitter exploded with outrage over Ponder's supposed lack of heart. Just one example: former Wild star Wes Walz expressed his shock at the news and ended his tweet with "#suckitup" in a hashtag. And that was one of the nicer critiques of Ponder's backbone.

Even after the game, when reporters noted that Ponder could barely lift his right arm to put his shirt on and Frazier said Ponder couldn't make the throws necessary to give the Vikings a chance to win the game, the tide of invective was not stemmed. If anything, the tone of the Internet tough guys hardened when gory photos of Ponder's swollen, discolored arm were made public on Monday.

Now, some amount of mudslinging is to be expected on the Internet, where critics can remain anonymous as they tear down the celebrities in their midst. But even on sites that require Facebook logins to post – or on Facebook itself – a shocking number of Vikings "fans" attached their name to commentary that revealed a pretty distorted view of reality, or at least a fundamental misunderstanding of the physical conditions required to play quarterback in an NFL game.

Most of the Ponder criticism can be broken down into five basic (and faulty) arguments.

1. Brett Favre would have sucked it up and played through that injury. Yes, Brett Favre started a remarkable 297 consecutive games and probably played through a number of injuries that would have sidelined any other player. But that's what makes this comparison so specious. Didn't we (and by "we" I mean fans and the media, especially certain members of the national media) just spend the last 20 years gushing about Favre's super-human strength and healing powers? Didn't we inflate the man's image until it was basically accepted that he was a god-like figure walking among us mere mortals? And we expect Christian Ponder – a player that most Vikings fans spent the first three months of the season trying to run out of town based on his dismal performance – to measure up to the Great Favre? (Oh, and not for nothing, but Favre did suffer a similar injury in 2008 with the Jets. He "sucked it up" and played through it, and the Jets lost four of their last five games as Favre threw two touchdown passes and nine interceptions in that stretch. Just sayin'.)

2. RGIII played through a much worse injury on Sunday. He sure did. And how did that turn out? Oh yeah. Not only did the Redskins blow a 14-0 lead after Griffin reinjured his knee in the first quarter and spent the remainder of the game hobbling around the field like the reincarnation of Billy Kilmer, but the rookie quarterback needed reconstructive surgery this week after his ACL and LCL finally gave out in the fourth quarter. The Redskins have a quality backup in Kirk Cousins, who led them to a comeback win over the playoff-bound Ravens and a blowout victory at Cleveland in December, but by the time Mike Shanahan turned the offense over to him, it was too late. So yes, RGIII played through a much worse injury on Sunday, and it cost his team a chance to win a playoff game and jeopardized his 2013 season.

3. Ponder needs to learn how to stay healthy. I'm not sure how one trains one's body to avoid injuries like the one that knocked Ponder out of Saturday's game. He hurt his triceps when Green Bay safety Morgan Burnett crashed into his right arm helmet-first as he was trying to complete a pass. If Ponder had curled up into the fetal position and taken the sack to protect his body, the same Internet tough guys would have called him "soft" and "gutless" and a bunch of other names we can't use on a family website. Injuries are what you call an occupational hazard when you play quarterback in the NFL. Sometimes they're unavoidable, no matter how well you've "learned" how to stay healthy.

4. They could have shot him up with pain-killers and sent him out there. No, they couldn't have. I'm not sure why this point wasn't made more clearly in the postgame breakdowns, but the issue was never Ponder's pain tolerance. It was all about what his body was capable of doing on Saturday afternoon and evening. All the injections in the world wouldn't have reduced the swelling in his arm, which hampered his range of motion and prevented him from getting any power behind his throws. You can't fire an 18-yard sideline route to Jarius Wright when you can't raise your arm above your chin.

5. I would have gone to work with a bruised elbow. This one's my personal favorite. Yes, Internet Tough Guy (or Gal), I'm sure you would have shown up for your job at the law firm or factory or McDonald's with a similar injury. I would have too. Because most of us can figure out a way to do our jobs without having to raise our right arm above our shoulder. An NFL quarterback doesn't have that luxury. It's right there on the NFL quarterback application for employment: 1. Can you raise your throwing arm above your shoulder? If the answer to that question is "no," then you can't be an NFL quarterback. Even if you have a physically taxing job, you can probably make accommodations for a similar injury and still perform your duties at a slower pace. It should go without saying that the same does not apply for an NFL quarterback.

In the end, I'm guessing most of the Ponder-based angst stems from fans who are upset that the Vikings laid an egg in the playoffs and wanted somebody to be mad at. They needed to lash out because the thought of spending a week (or an entire offseason) alongside smug Packers fans after that loss is really hard to stomach. Maybe they were in the "play Joe Webb" camp all season and were embarrassed to be proven so wrong. Or they were upset with the Vikings' brain trust for having no legitimate backup quarterback to turn to when Ponder went down. So they found themselves a convenient scapegoat – the pretty-boy No. 1 draft pick who earns millions of dollars, married the blonde bombshell sideline reporter, and showed just barely enough improvement in his second season (in the last four games of his second season, actually) to tease the Vikings into running him out there again in 2013.

But I can say this with complete confidence: if Ponder had "sucked it up" and tried to play through the injury, only to heave a dying quail on the first possession that Charles Woodson picked off and returned for a touchdown, these same Internet tough guys would have been screaming at Ponder for being selfish, for putting himself ahead of his team, for desperately trying to hang onto his job when everybody knows that Joe Webb gives the Vikings the best chance to win.

Look, I'm not saying Ponder is untouchable or should be immune from any criticism. Lord knows he provided plenty of ammunition this year – his performance in the first Lambeau game alone should give the front office night sweats this entire offseason, and rushing into a marriage with two weeks left in the season and a playoff berth at stake was certainly … odd.

But if you're going to attack the guy via social media, do it for the right reasons. His "toughness," "heart" or "dedication" are not among them.

Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, a contributor to the 2012 Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

 

VikesCentric: Pondering options at QB

Posted by: Updated: December 7, 2012 - 12:20 AM

I'll admit, I've been slow to hop on the anti-Christian Ponder bandwagon. Not that I've loved what I've seen from him on the field, but I just think it's unreasonable to expect the Vikings to already give up on their No. 1 draft pick from 2011. True, the timetable for young quarterbacks has accelerated and expectations are higher, thanks to the rookie-year success of Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. Heck, even the rare flashes of competence that Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill have shown this year are a step up from most of Ponder's performances. 

My main argument for supporting Ponder is that you'll never know what he's capable of until he's throwing to a full slate of NFL-caliber receivers. I even took to Twitter after the Bears debacle two weeks ago – when Jerome Simpson put on a pass-dropping clinic, and Jarius Wright and Stephen Burton were quick studies – and said dumping Ponder now would be akin to the Twins firing pitching coach Rick Anderson because he couldn't turn Esmerling Vasquez and Luis Perdomo into Cy Young winners. 

Then the Vikings went to Green Bay. Ponder absolutely gave away a winnable game with two horrendous decisions/throws, and did nothing on the plus side to overcome those errors. He was truly, spectacularly horrible, and the fact that the coaching staff didn't replace him with Joe Webb should tell you all you need to know about Webb's stock within the organization. Had the Vikings won that game, they'd be tied with the Packers at 7-5, one game behind the Bears in the NFC North, and their unlikely playoff bid wouldn't be on life support. 

When Leslie Frazier took over full-time in 2011, it looked like he had a major rebuilding project on his hands. Instead, Adrian Peterson has recovered from injury and remains in his prime as an elite tailback. The defense is still getting decent run out of veterans like Jared Allen, Chad Greenway and Antoine Winfield, and they went a long way toward shoring up weaknesses on the offensive line and in the secondary in last year's draft. 

But with Ponder flailing about in the backfield, giving away games that could be won by simply "managing" rather than putting the team on his back, the Vikings are wasting Peterson's prime. They're wasting the continued efforts of their defense and recent draftees. And they're wasting a golden opportunity to challenge the Bears and Packers, who aren't as invincible as the Vikings feared. 

Thus, presuming Ponder doesn't suddenly morph into the second coming of John Unitas the next four weeks, I've come around to the idea that the Vikings should at least consider their options at quarterback for 2013. The decision won't be made in a vacuum – it's not, "Should Ponder be the starting quarterback next year?" but rather, "Is Ponder the best of the Vikings' options at quarterback next year?" 

So let's take a look at their options. They way I see it, the Vikings could go one of three ways. They could maintain status quo and give Ponder no competition for the starting spot; they could go 180 degrees the other way and bring in a veteran to supplant Ponder from Day 1, or they could split the difference and bring in a second-tier veteran to push Ponder and at least give Frazier a backup he felt confident in calling on when Ponder puts up a stinker like he did last Sunday. (We're not going to bother considering drafting another rookie starter, because the attendant learning curve would likely keep the offense in wheel-spinning mode as Peterson, et al, get another year older.) 

So, let's take a spin around the NFL and see who the Vikings might be considering as they weigh their options for 2013 

Alex Smith – His $7.5 million salary is guaranteed on April 1, 2013, meaning he'll get the axe as long as Colin Kaepernick doesn't completely fall apart during the final few weeks of the season. Jim Harbaugh traded up to draft Kaepernick in the 2011 draft, and he'll give the former Nevada star every chance to prove his worth and make him (Harbaugh) look like a genius. 

Kevin Kolb – He's due $9 million in 2013, with a $2 million roster bonus. Even though rookie Ryan Lindley isn't tearing it up, it's possible that between Lindley and John Skelton, the Cardinals will be happy to let Kolb go and choose from the two much, much cheaper options. Also, Kolb has pretty much stunk when he's played, so … he's got that going for him. 

Matt Flynn – His contract was worth $10 million guaranteed, and $19.5 million over three years. The Seahawks might just hang onto him for that investment, although if they decide that Wilson is their present and future, it's possible Flynn will be on the market. How fun would that be? First Favre, then Flynn? Packers fans would be apoplectic. 

Chase Daniel – The Saints' backup will be a unrestricted free agent. It's hard to say what he's capable of doing in the NFL, because Drew Brees doesn't take a play off. But he might be worth a sniff as a quarterback to challenge Ponder. 

Michael Vick – There's no way the Eagles pay him the $15.5 million he's owed in 2013, and they'll probably have a new head coach anyway, somebody who will want to make his mark on the Eagles roster. Thus, Vick will be a free agent. But does he have anything left? Will he be a fit in Bill Musgrave's offense? Will Musgrave even be the Vikings' offensive coordinator? So many questions … 

Matt Leinart – He'll be an unrestricted free agent, and he's making just $700,000 with the Raiders in 2012. Oakland has hitched its wagon to Carson Palmer, so Leinart would likely jump at the chance to challenge for the job. But isn't he just a left-handed Christian Ponder? 

Matt Cassel – He's due $16.5 million over the next two years, and it's likely the Chiefs have seen enough from him. But isn't he just a right-handed Matt Leinart? 

Chad Henne – The Jaguars are in a similar position as the Vikings. Do they stick with their 2011 first-round draft choice, who's been underwhelming thus far? In this case, Blaine Gabbert might have more rope to work with because the Jags aren't close to contending. They're more likely to let Henne walk, thus dodging his $2.6 million salary for 2013, and rolling the dice on Gabbert. 

Matt Hasselbeck – He'll be 38 next September and he sure looked like he was done when the Vikings schooled him in October. But Jake Locker is the future in Tennessee, and with $5.5 million due Hasselbeck in 2013, it's possible the Titans will gamble on Locker with Rusty Smith as the backup, meaning the former Seahawks Pro Bowler could be available as a veteran mentor and possible challenger to Ponder. 

Ryan Mallet – He was in the same draft class as Ponder, but slipped to the third round due to rumors of drug use. He's apparently kept his nose clean thus far in New England, but he's signed to a team-friendly contact and there's no way Bill Belichick trades his insurance policy for Tom Brady for anything less than a price the Vikings should not be willing to pay. 

Matt Moore – The Dolphins are obviously smitten with Tannehill, meaning they could save $2.5 million by letting Moore walk after this season. He showed promise at the end of the 2009 season, when he went 4-1 down the stretch for Carolina, including a three-TD, no-interception performance against the Vikings. But he went 6-7 as a starter for Miami in 2011 and would be little more than competition for Ponder if the Vikings were to bring him aboard. 

There are a handful of potential free agents not even worth discussing – Derek Anderson, Jimmy Clausen, Rex Grossman, Kyle Orton, Colt McCoy, Tarvaris Jackson, Tyler Thigpen – and at least one other – Joe Flacco – who won't be hitting the market. 

So, looking at our list, there's probably only one guy out there (Smith) who would become the starter the moment he sets foot in the locker room at Winter Park, a couple of guys (Flynn, Daniel) with intriguing potential, a couple players (Kolb, Cassel) who had their chance as starters and failed spectacularly, some possibly washed-up has-beens (Vick, Hasselbeck) and never-weres (Leinart, Henne, Moore). 

Are any of them better options than starting next year with Christian Ponder as the only quarterback option on the roster? That's up to Rick Spielman and – perhaps – Frazier and Musgrave to decide. 

Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData and a contributor to the 2012 Vikings Yearbook. He's covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

VikesCentric: Time for the Wildcat?

Posted by: Updated: October 26, 2012 - 12:56 AM

I have a confession: listening to the Vikings postgame show on KFAN is a guilty pleasure of mine. Whether it's a two-hour whine-line after another bitter defeat or a string of euphoric proclamations of Viking greatness after a hard-fought victory, I always get a kick out of the enthusiasm, passion and dedication on display from Vikings fans.

But I will never understand the mindset that drives some callers to propose tinkering with something that's not broken – or to propose repeatedly debunked theories as a solution to the Vikings' current woes. In this case, I'm referring to the weekly calls for Leslie Frazier and Bill Musgrave to find a way to get Joe Webb into the lineup via some version of the Wildcat formation. 

Those calls are perhaps to be expected when Christian Ponder lays a pterodactyl-sized egg on the Metrodome turf like he did against Arizona, when he was picked off twice for the third straight game, completed 8 of 17 passes for 58 yards, and possessed the pocket presence of kitten chasing a butterfly. Or even when he struggles toward competence, like he did Thursday night against Tampa Bay, when he wobbled his way through a 36-17 loss.

However, it also doesn't seem to matter whether in the preceding three hours Ponder has completed 77 percent of his passes (as he did against Indianapolis), thrown a pair of touchdown passes against zero interceptions for his second straight game (as he did against San Francisco) or amassed a season-high 352 passing yards (as he did against Washington). The calls still come, reliable as an October snowfall in the Twin Cities.

I get the fans' frustration with the offense when it's not running smoothly or effectively. And I understand the tease factor of Webb, who has put together a few nice games under center in the Frazier era.

But the Wildcat – or the Blazer package, as the Vikings have called it – is a gimmick. It doesn't work consistently enough. The Dolphins shook up the NFL in 2008 when they used Ronnie Brown in the Wildcat role and scored a few touchdowns. It worked for a few weeks, most teams tried to copy the blueprint, and the league's defensive coordinators adjusted. Now it's about as fresh as Tina Fey's Sarah Palin impersonation, which debuted that same autumn.

The only team that's running the Wildcat with any success this year is the 49ers, where Collin Kaepernick runs behind the NFL's best offensive line and the Niners are usually protecting a big lead built on the strength of a dominant defense and the efficiency of the team's base offense under Alex Smith.

On the other hand, the Vikings' history with the Wildcat is spotty, at best. Last season, Webb had six carries for a grand total of 9 yards in Blazer appearances. His success running the ball has come when he's taking snaps under center and scrambling in a broken field.

That only happens when he's the starting quarterback or called on to take over the offense due to injury. When Webb enters the game in the Blazer, the defense knows he's there to do one thing – run the ball. With the element of surprise gone, he's trying to run against nine men in the box, and the results have been predictably dismal.

Could Musgrave draw up some Blazer plays that give Webb the option to pass? Sure – but if they're going to pass the ball, the Vikings have shown that they clearly Ponder handling that duty. Pulling him out of the game for a series interrupts the flow of the offense and will only hamper Ponder's development, which – even given their 5-3 start – remains the No. 1 priority for the 2012 season.

Look, I understand fans' frustration with Ponder. We live in an instant gratification society, and when you see what other neophyte quarterbacks have done in recent years – think of what Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Andy Dalton and Cam Newton, among others, accomplished as rookies – it's natural to want more productivity out of Ponder.

But other teams have been rewarded for their patience with young quarterbacks. Eli Manning, Jay Cutler and Smith didn't win their first playoff games until their fourth year as a starters; Drew Brees was in his fifth season, and Peyton Manning his sixth. The younger Manning faced constant criticism before he finally broke through. Smith was benched a number of times. Cutler and Brees were traded before they blossomed as playoff winners.

Is Ponder in the same class as those quarterbacks? Clearly not … but the Vikings bet a first-round draft choice on the possibility that he will get there. They're not going to put up any roadblocks toward his development in the hope of short-term gains, especially when the Wildcat detour has been proven a road to nowhere.

In other words, fans can call for the Wildcat until they're purple in the face, but Frazier and Musgrave are committed to Ponder, for good or for ill.

Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, a contributor to the 2012 Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

VikesCentric: The Blair Walsh Project

Posted by: Updated: August 17, 2012 - 11:45 PM

The development of Blair Walsh is one of the most closely monitored storylines of the Vikings' 2012 preseason. And if not for the magical night of Audie Cole, he probably would have been the story of the game on Friday after the Purple took down the Buffalo Bills 36-14.

The Vikings used a sixth-round draft pick in April to secure the services of the former Georgia Bulldog – the first time they've drafted a kicker since they selected the immortal Mike Wood in the eighth round of the 1978 draft. They quickly released stalwart Ryan Longwell, essentially handing the job to the unproven Walsh.

Quick aside: I have a friend who lives in Atlanta and follows the SEC closely. When I saw him last weekend, he said, "I can't (redacted) believe the Vikings drafted that Walsh kid from Georgia!"

My friend's skepticism is warranted. Last season, Walsh converted on just 21 of 35 field goals, including a dismal 5-for-12 effort from 40-to-49 yards. However, Walsh hit on 40 of 45 attempts as a sophomore and junior, and the Vikings thought they saw a flaw in his mechanics during his senior season, a flaw they were convinced they could fix.

Two (preseason) games into Walsh's professional career, the Vikings' hunch appears to be paying off. Last week, he went 2-for-2 on field goals of 26 and 39 yards and handled kickoff duties with aplomb in the notoriously kicker-unfriendly Candlestick Park.

And on Friday night, Walsh moved indoors and had his coming-out party.

He went 5-for-6 on field goal attempts, connecting from 22, 47, 45, 40, and 30 yards out while missing a 49-yarder that he pushed wide right after a shaky snap/hold combination from Cullen Loeffler and Chris Kluwe.

Meanwhile, without another kicker on the roster, Walsh had to handle all nine Minnesota kickoffs, and that's where he really shone. Let's take a closer look at his kickoffs:

1 – 6 yards deep, returned to the 18
2 – squib to 2, returned to the 29
3 – 5 yards deep, returned to the 11
4 – through the end zone
5 – 8 yards deep, not returned
6 – 9 yards deep, not returned
7 – bounced at the 6, picked up 1 yard deep, returned to the 11
8 – fielded at the 4, returned to the 26
9 – through the uprights

Yes, you read that right – his final kickoff went through the uprights, a 75-yard bomb that split the posts and sent the few remaining fans into a frenzy. What made that even more impressive is that it was his third kickoff in about 10 minutes of actual clock time, thanks to Cole's touchdowns on consecutive plays.

He also hit all three of his extra-point attempts. And he did it all without the benefit of Mitch Berger's performance-enhancing Snickers.

After the game, Walsh told KFAN sideline reporter Greg Coleman that he took his eyes off the ball on his second kickoff, resulting in a squib kick that yielded Buffalo's best return of the night. A rookie mistake – hey, he's human – but on the other eight kickoffs he proved to be a weapon who will help the Vikings in the crucial field-position battle all season long.

It might be too early to start chiseling Walsh's bust in Canton, but given the team's myriad other concerns, Leslie Frazier and his staff have to be breathing a bit more easily when they ponder the team's kicking game.

Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, a contributor to the 2012 Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press.

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