Sid Hartman: Rodgers, Ponder share swagger

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 13, 2011 - 12:14 AM

Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell, who played for Green Bay when Rodgers was drafted 24th overall in the first round in 2005, compared his current quarterback with Green Bay's as a rookie.

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Ryan Longwell was in his ninth year with the Packers in 2005, the year they drafted Aaron Rodgers in the first round. Longwell says Rodgers’ three years backing up Brett Favre proved invaluable in making him the star he is today.

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The Vikings will face the hottest quarterback in the NFL Monday night in the Packers' Aaron Rodgers. Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell, who played for Green Bay when Rodgers was drafted 24th overall in the first round in 2005, was asked to compare Rodgers in his first year with Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder.

"We had picked late in the first round, 24, 25 or something, and picked [Rodgers]. But you could tell right away, much like when we drafted [Matt] Hasselbeck in the sixth round [in 1998] and some of the other quarterbacks that were there, that he had that X-factor that you need as a great quarterback.

"It's that swagger that good quarterbacks have. It's not like ego, it's not one of those things. It's more of a quiet confidence. Hasselbeck had it, Aaron Rodgers had it, and Ponder has it. So if he can develop it, the sky is the limit for him."

One big difference: Ponder is playing right away. Rodgers spent three years behind Brett Favre reworking his throwing motion and tweaking his skills.

"Obviously those three years that he spent not playing and with Brett there, he was able to really develop his physical skills on throwing the ball," Longwell said. "He throws as good a ball as anybody I've ever seen now.

"I think even if you ask Aaron, I think the ability to come in and learn for a few years was instrumental in how much success he's having now. Because of the tweaks that he had to make to his throwing motion and some of the physical things he had to tweak, he couldn't have done that coming in and playing right away. I think those were definitely years gained for him, and I don't think he feels like they're years lost."

Tough to win in Green Bay

Longwell spent nine years with Green Bay and now is in his sixth with the Vikings. Asked how tough it is to win in Packerland, the kicker recalled his first team meeting as a Green Bay rookie.

"[Then-coach Mike] Holmgren stood, got up and said what he had to say. And then his final thing was, 'We never lose at Lambeau.' That was kind of the mantra that everybody kept. It was 2 1/2 or three years before we lost [at home]," Longwell said.

"We lost to the Vikings on a Monday night game [in 1998, Longwell's second season]. But we just always felt like we never lost at Lambeau. It's kind of a mentality that helps you through tough games, and they've kind of returned that to how it was when I first got there, it's currently like that now."

Longwell said the difference between the Packers' relationship with their fans compared to other NFL teams indicates just how deeply ingrained the team is to the community. "I think it's everything. It's the coaches, it's the fan base, the town, the city," he said. "Green Bay is a better place on Sunday nights after a win than it is going out to dinner after a loss. I think when you get into that environment, it breeds that this is a special place, and you want to win for your fans. It gets into the fabric of how you think as a team."

On another subject, Longwell said he believes he has learned the reason he has missed three field goals over the past four games, something that's quite unusual for him given that he had missed a total of three field goals over the past two seasons.

"We spent the bye week, [long snapper] Cullen [Loeffler] and [holder Chris] Kluwe and I, looking at what was different, and what's changed and I think we have a pretty good answer for what happened," he said.

"There's so many moving parts in a short amount of time [when kicking a field goal], you know everything has to be right on. We all worked hard over the bye week and we feel we have a pretty good rhythm now."

Longwell is confident if it comes to a winning field goal Monday, he won't miss this time.

Gophers take a step back

After the Gophers had played better in the past few weeks, coach Jerry Kill expected that type of performance Saturday. Instead, he got what he described as a lack of execution in a 42-13 loss to Wisconsin, special teams accounting for the Gophers' only two touchdowns.

Field position killed the Gophers all day, with punter Dan Orseske averaging only 31.2 yards on four punts.

It also didn't help that the Gophers faced maybe the best quarterback in the nation in Russell Wilson, who completed 16 of 17 passes for 178 yards and four touchdowns while also rushing seven times for 19 yards.

On the other hand, Gophers quarterback MarQueis Gray was playing despite a bad back injured last week at Michigan State. There was some question whether he would play, but he still rushed 19 times for 68 yards. He completed only six of 14 passes for 51 yards, but Kill called attention to the fact that some of those incomplete passes were drops.

Unlike the Iowa and Michigan State games, the Gophers didn't take advantage of the opportunities Wisconsin gave them. But the truth of the matter is that the Gophers had no defense for Wilson and Montee Ball, who rushed 23 times for 166 yards and two touchdowns.

The only way the Gophers were going to make a respectable performance against this great Badgers team was to keep the Wisconsin offense off the field, and on this day the home team offense did anything but.

And like Kill said, it was apparent that the Gophers offensive line didn't come close to its performance of a week ago, when it did a great job against a Michigan State defense that is one of the nation's best.

Jottings

 While Terry Ryan talked about a reduced payroll from some $115 million in 2011 to $100 million in 2012, the Pohlads have never turned down a request by a general manager to add payroll. One example was the re-signing of free- agent righthander Carl Pavano last season.

Jack Morris, the pitching great who did some radio work for the Twins and was talking with them about being a minor league coach, said, "I have nothing going with the Twins for next year at the present time."

Rest assured that former Vikings coach Brad Childress can have a spot on the Philadelphia Eagles coaching staff under Andy Reid next season. But don't be too surprised if Childress winds up as the coach of the Miami Dolphins.

Harvey Mackay points out in his new book "The Mackay MBA of Selling in the Real World," which is his seventh New York Times bestseller, that four of the best NFL coaches had poor first-year records before winning the Super Bowl. Tom Landry was 0-11-1 with the Cowboys in 1960, and also with Dallas, Jimmy Johnson went 1-15 in 1989. Chuck Noll went 1-13 with the Steelers in 1969 and Bill Walsh 2-14 with the 49ers in 1979.

• Roseville's Mike Muscala, the Patriot League Player of the Year who had 12 points Friday in Bucknell's loss to the Gophers, was recruited to the Pennsylvania school by Dane Fischer, a 1998 Rochester John Marshall graduate in his fourth year as a Bison assistant. Former Gophers player Mitch Ohnstad, who coached Muscala in AAU ball, was in attendance Friday.

• Former Gopher Nick Leddy, a 2009 Wild first-round pick traded to Chicago in 2010, is having a great start to the season. The 20-year-old leads all Blackhawks defensemen with 10 points (two goals, eight assists) and is fifth overall in scoring for the Central Division leaders.

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