Rookie at QB not new for Vikings coaches

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 20, 2011 - 11:48 PM

Bill Musgrave worked with Matt Ryan in Atlanta, while Craig Johnson helped Vince Young in Tennessee.

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Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave worked with Matt Ryan (2) in Atlanta. Now he'll be bringing along another young quarterback in rookie Christian Ponder.

Photo: Nam Y. Huh, Associated Press

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Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave was Atlanta Falcons quarterbacks coach when Matt Ryan broke in as a rookie in 2008, leading the team to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth. Ryan now is ranked with the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

Vikings quarterback coach Craig Johnson was in that role with the Tennessee Titans when Vince Young joined in 2006 and ended up winning the NFL Rookie of the Year Award.

So the two coaches were asked to talk about their experiences with rookie starters in the past and how they compare to Christian Ponder.

"[Ryan and Ponder] played in good offenses at college, [were] well-schooled and asked to do a lot of pro concepts," Musgrave said. "They have some good time on task from college."

Both Young and Ryan were the No. 3 overall draft picks. Ponder was the No. 12 selection in April.

Musgrave said that, like most rookies, Ryan was green as grass when he started.

"They've got a lot to learn, and the only way to learn is to get out on the field and experience it," Musgrave said. "Same with Ponder. He'll see some things that he's never seen before, but if history is any indication, he'll learn from his mistakes and get better all the way."

Musgrave said he didn't know if anybody ever anticipated Ryan progressing at the rate that he did that 2008 rookie year in Atlanta, but he said Ryan, who played four years at Boston College, was a good student and did a good job of learning from his mistakes, a skill essential for any quarterback.

As for Ponder, Musgrave said: "He was a fearless runner at Florida State. He knows he needs to use better judgment at this level so that we can keep him upright."

Both Ryan and Ponder were four-year players at Atlantic Coast Conference schools, but Musgrave said as quarterbacks, they are a little different.

"Ryan is taller [6-4 to 6-2], maybe a little bit more of a pocket passer. I think Christian's movement will be one of his fortés," Musgrave said.

Musgrave believes Ponder has the traits to be a good starting QB in the NFL.

"His background, his competitiveness -- he's awfully sharp, and again, his athletic ability [is] really a strong suit," he said. "He just has to get out there and butt his head up against it, a little bit like he did on Sunday night. You have to be on the field to experience the speed and the vitality of all those defenders and bring yourself up to that speed and start executing."

Recalling Young

Young also had a reputation as a scrambling quarterback coming out of Texas, where he led the Longhorns to the 2005 national championship. Johnson said every young quarterback has his own skill set, and that applies to Young and Ponder as well.

"I think every guy is unique and every guy has their own style," Johnson said. "I think that the biggest thing with Christian is, he's done a good job on the practice field, as we've talked about. I thought that the game did not overwhelm him coming in against Chicago. As I said, it's a little different role when you come in as a starter. But he's practicing fast, he's working hard at it, and we're going to do everything we can to try to get him to be ready to play this week."

Like Ponder, Young didn't start right away; his first start came in Week 4.

"In fact," Johnson said, "the roles were somewhat similar. ... This will be our seventh game for Christian. But the bottom line is [Ponder] had a chance to watch a little bit, both guys had a chance to.

"They kind of had a chance to learn from a veteran with [Young behind] Kerry Collins and now [Ponder] with Donovan [McNabb]. Now it's his chance to take the reins, and I'm excited to watch and see what he's going to do. But I've been blessed, like Bill, that have had rookie quarterbacks that have played pretty well for us."

Johnson said there won't be a limited offense with a rookie making his first career start.

"We're going to go in and try to make sure he's comfortable," Johnson said. "Right now, we've got a lot of it up. We'll maybe pare it down a little bit at the end of the week, make sure he's comfortable with the calls that we have -- that's standard procedure -- and then make sure he can get out there and play fast. I think that's important."

Jottings

• McNabb said he was happy with the way coach Leslie Frazier handled his demotion. "I appreciate the way he handled it and the way everything has been handled," McNabb said Wednesday. "We sat down and talked and ironed some things out. After the conversation we moved on, and again I'm preparing myself for what could happen. I'm just making sure I'm ready to go."

• Pictures of 42 Gophers football players who had at least a 3.0 grade-point average last semester are in the recreation room at the Bierman Building. And more than half of the 42 are players who see a lot of action.

• Gophers coach Jerry Kill and offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover were on the road last week watching highly recruited lineman commitment Jonah Pirsig play for Blue Earth in a 15-13 loss to Fairmont.

• Among Big Ten teams, Nebraska has faced the Gophers more than any other conference school, 51 times dating to 1900. Minnesota has had nine- and 10-game winning streaks against the Cornhuskers as a nonconference rival but has lost the past 14 meetings.

• Duane Bennett needs 24 rushing yards to move into the top 20 in Gophers history. He has rushed for 1,737 yards in his career and could tie Kent Kitzmann, who rushed for 1,761 yards from 1976 to '78.

• Hassan Mead, the outstanding Gophers distance runner who had a lot of problems with injuries last year, finished fifth overall in the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational cross-country meet last week. The Gophers, who were ranked 17th entering the meet, finished seventh out of 39 teams, beating four teams ranked higher than them. They finished the meet third among the Big Ten teams.

• Three former Gophers are off to hot starts in the NHL. Phil Kessel has a league-leading 12 points (seven goals, five assists) for Toronto. Right behind him at No. 2 is Buffalo's Thomas Vanek, who scored twice Thursday night and has 10 points (six goals, four assists). Erik Johnson, in his first full year with Colorado, is tied for second in power-play points with five assists.

• Defenseman Brady Skjei, a Gophers recruit from Lakeville playing for the U.S. National Under-18 Team in Ann Arbor, Mich., is rated No. 29 in the International Scouting Services' list of NHL draft-eligible prospects for 2012. ... Apple Valley's Hudson Fasching had a goal and three assists in his first five games for the U.S. Under-17 Team.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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