Scoggins: Make Ponder the starting QB

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 17, 2011 - 11:57 PM

Starting the youngster is best for the team, both in the short and long term.

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Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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Leslie Frazier said he will announce his starting quarterback Wednesday after consulting with his coaching staff the next few days.

Frankly, that should be a fairly short discussion. At this point, the Vikings have no reason not to start rookie Christian Ponder over struggling veteran Donovan McNabb.

Asked 10 different ways about the factors they'll consider in arriving at a decision, Frazier stayed with a "what's best for our team" theme. Which is a valid argument. They should do what's best for the team right now, and that is to give the ball to Ponder and see what he can do.

There's nothing preventing a change in personnel and philosophy now. At 1-5, the Vikings aren't going to the playoffs. They weren't even competitive in a 39-10 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday night. Frazier doesn't have to worry about upsetting his veterans by turning things over to a rookie. That ship has sailed.

Frazier's initial plan was understandable. Even though the Vikings clearly looked like a team in transition, Frazier realized he has a group of veterans who are either in their prime or on the other side of it. Guys such as Steve Hutchinson, Antoine Winfield, Kevin Williams, Jared Allen, Adrian Peterson, E.J. Henderson, Visanthe Shiancoe and Chad Greenway.

Starting Ponder from Day 1 might have been a tough sell. Not anymore.

The Vikings should approach these next 10 games with an eye on the future and what's best long term. They need to see how Ponder handles himself in something other than mop-up duty of a blowout. He should get that opportunity Sunday at home against Green Bay.

That doesn't necessarily mean they're raising the white flag on this season. For all we know, Ponder might be the one who gives this team the best chance to win right now.

In no way is this meant to dismiss or diminish McNabb's legacy. He has had a very good career. Some even consider it a Hall of Fame career. From afar, he always seemed like a stand-up guy in the face of criticism. But the plan hasn't worked here, and the Vikings shouldn't waste any more potential evaluation time of Ponder by convincing themselves otherwise.

This is obviously a delicate situation for Frazier. He went to bat for McNabb when the NFL lockout wiped out the entire offseason. Frazier wants to show McNabb some loyalty and not pull the plug too soon, despite mounting evidence that McNabb's skills have eroded to the point that he's routinely skipping passes off the turf.

If Frazier sticks with McNabb much longer, he threatens his credibility with the masses who clearly have seen enough. The boos McNabb heard throughout a victory against Arizona two weeks ago will only become more intense if he remains the starter and has a few errant throws early in the game. That's not a fun situation for anyone.

McNabb completed 19 of 24 passes on Sunday, but it looked arduous because of his accuracy problems and this offense's lack of a vertical passing game.

The struggles on offense are not solely a product of McNabb's ineffectiveness. Frazier had steam coming out of his ears Monday as he discussed the woeful play of his offensive line against the Bears. The Vikings also lack a No. 1 receiver who can make plays down the field. Switching quarterbacks isn't going to solve those problems.

Ponder had some nice moments in his debut, but they came in garbage time, so it's premature to draw too many conclusions. He did show his mobility and pocket awareness, which are good traits to possess because he's going to be running for his life behind that line.

Vikings coaches understandably might be a little concerned about giving a rookie his first start against the defending Super Bowl champions and a defense that blitzes from all angles. They also have to consider how McNabb would handle a demotion.

Frazier said he doesn't want to get in a situation where he's "flip-flopping" his quarterbacks the rest of the season. If the coaches go with Ponder, they need to be confident and comfortable with him at the controls.

Changing quarterbacks is never a routine decision because of the importance of that position. But the timing and circumstance make sense. Now they need to find out what the rookie can do.

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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