Vikings in disarray turn to Ponder

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 19, 2011 - 8:49 AM

In a decision building for weeks, the Florida State rookie will get his first test leading the Vikings offense.

The suspense will end at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday -- what's left of it anyway. That's when Vikings coach Leslie Frazier will step to a lectern inside the fieldhouse at Winter Park and officially declare his starting quarterback for this week's game against Green Bay.

The announcement will be welcome if not all that surprising.

On Tuesday, a source within the Vikings organization confirmed that rookie Christian Ponder will start Sunday. SportsTrust Advisors, the agency that manages Ponder, further confirmed the news by tweeting its congratulations.

And just like that, Donovan McNabb will go to the bench and the Vikings will turn the page into what they hope is a promising new era.

So just what will Ponder's promotion mean? Here are three questions worth considering.

• Is there any reason not to start Ponder this week?

Truthfully, it was becoming awfully hard to find a risk-reward scenario that didn't lead to Ponder replacing McNabb. As quarterback controversies go, this one sure seems clear-cut. For a Vikings squad whose 2011 season is going down in flames, the chance to develop a promising young quarterback far outweighs the value of possibly scratching out an extra two or three wins with an aging veteran whose contract will be up at season's end.

It was quickly becoming a foregone conclusion that Ponder would start at some point this season. Frazier said as much Monday. So why delay the inevitable?

The Vikings head coach might say Wednesday he believes Ponder gives the Vikings the best chance to win now -- this week and for the rest of 2011. But really, this is a prudent move designed to build toward a more promising future.

• Should there be concern that Ponder's first test, against the undefeated Green Bay Packers, will be too difficult to pass?

Depends on how you look at things. A true dice roller sees a no-lose situation. Even before Frazier promoted Ponder, the Vikings came into the week as 8 1/2-point underdogs. At home. So why not throw Ponder into the fray, see how he handles the excitement and pressure, and let the kid acclimate to life in the NFL?

Who knows? Maybe he pulls off a stunning upset that leaves the entire franchise feeling far more encouraged about its future.

The more likely scenario, obviously, is that Ponder stumbles throughout his starting debut, showing moments of brilliance offset by twice as many inexperienced blunders.

The worst-case scenario: the Packers deliver a decisive blowout, batter Ponder throughout and badly bruise his confidence.

But the rookie quarterback understands the reality. Two weeks ago, he was asked about the dangers of jumping into action too early.

"You wonder about the confidence hit," he said. "If you go out and make mistakes, will you start doubting yourself? But for me, it's from making mistakes that I learn the most. So it's getting over that. I know there are going to be some rough learning moments. It's about accepting those, putting them under my belt and moving on."

Oh, and don't forget. Through Week 6, the Packers rank 31st in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 299.7 yards per game. Much of that stems from the big leads they've built that have forced opponents to throw often. But there are still stats out there to be had.

• How are other highly hyped young quarterbacks faring around the league?

In the past three years, nine quarterbacks have been drafted in the first round. This past April that fraternity comprised Cam Newton (taken No. 1 overall), Jake Locker (No. 8), Blaine Gabbert (No. 10) and Ponder (No. 12).

In 2010, Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow were taken in the first round. The year before that, Matthew Stafford, Marc Sanchez and Josh Freeman entered the league as highly touted prospects.

Among Ponder's classmates, Newton's impressive early breakthrough has been one of the NFL's bigger storylines, providing hope that the rookie learning curve doesn't have to be excessively steep.

Gabbert, a friend of Ponder's, has been slower to come along. In his first four starts, he has a .470 completion percentage, averaging 166 yards per game with four touchdowns and two interceptions.

It's logical to expect Ponder to fall somewhere in the middle. And now, after a disastrous 1-5 start, Vikings fans finally have a silver lining: the chance to give Ponder 11 weeks of on-the-job training without a lot at stake.

Jim Souhan contributed to this report.


    Up next: 3:15 p.m. Sunday vs. Green Bay • Mall of America Field • TV: Ch. 9 (100.3-FM, 1130-AM)

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