The Vikings aren't asking a lot of quarterback Christian Ponder, but growing pains continue.
MANKATO - For a moment, Michael Jenkins appeared ready to deliver the crowd-pleasing highlight of Monday afternoon's practice. Freezing cornerback Chris Cook with a hitch, the Vikings receiver broke free up the right sideline, gaining 4 yards of separation.
Quarterback Christian Ponder zeroed in and fired.
Only Jenkins stumbled. And Ponder put too much on his throw.
Cue the inevitable groans.
On the first series of 11-on-11 action during the first training camp practice in pads, Ponder had missed a big-play opportunity. Which, predictably, seemed to fluster an excitable contingent of fans in the practice field stands.
It bothered Ponder, too. When the series was over, he raced to Jenkins with an apology and a low five.
"Man," Ponder said. "I've got to put more air under that."
With the Vikings practicing in full pads Monday for the first time since December, Ponder's efforts were, by his own admission, inconsistent. All eyes were on the second-year quarterback to see if he'd continue the stellar play he showed during two practices last week.
Instead, Ponder had an average day, struggling some with his blitz pick-ups and missing a few open routes.
"I thought there obviously were a lot of mistakes that we can fix and a lot of growing to do," Ponder said. "But I thought this was a good starting point."
That vexing overthrow of Jenkins?
"If I had left it a couple inches shorter, it would have been a touchdown," Ponder said. "It was frustrating to miss a wide-open guy like that. He ran a good route and I just missed him."
Still, while Ponder's ability to energize the offense will determine how much growth the Vikings make in 2012, making big things happen might not require an avalanche of big plays.
Instead, as camp progresses and the daily 11-on-11 tests increase, Ponder will be judged more so on his decision-making and his efficiency. And those must tie back to the straightforward and somewhat vanilla theme that offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has been preaching.
"Our mindset," Ponder said, "is to do the ordinary things better than everyone else."
To translate, that essentially means the Vikings are trying to find situations and play calls that their young quarterback is comfortable with and can execute repeatedly.
"We're going to find that comfort zone and have plays we can lean on and go to in clutch situations," left guard Charlie Johnson said. "And we're going to work those and get to a point where we can do it in our sleep. I think that's a great approach considering how young we are offensively. Not just with Christian but also with all the young receivers and some of the [offensive] linemen."
So yes, Ponder's 11-on-11 errors Monday included that overthrow to Jenkins, a short-hopped dart in the direction of tight end Kyle Rudolph and a deep pass to Devin Aromashodu that was routinely swatted down by Eric Frampton.
But Ponder also excelled in spots when he wasn't trying to do too much. His prettiest throw was a touchdown toss to Rudolph over the top of linebacker Chad Greenway.
"You have to step back and say to yourself, this is Day 1," Johnson said. "We're in no rush. Just slow down, do the work and we'll get better. Coach Musgrave says it best: We're going to do ordinary things better than everything else."
So the Vikings young quarterback left practice glued to the understanding that riding the training camp wave requires a big-picture perspective that, in the NFL, is not always retained on the outside.
Added Ponder: "It's building blocks right now. It's only the third day. ... Hopefully you don't get into those sluggish days. And when you do get in the sluggish days, you have to grind it out."