Sid Hartman: Ponder sees better things on Vikings offense

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 19, 2012 - 11:10 PM

 The second-year quarterback sees improvement from the wide receivers, from the line and from himself, too.

Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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The Vikings have played two preseason games, losing to the 49ers and beating the Bills. Quarterback Christian Ponder was asked how he would grade his performance in those two starts.

"OK. You know, I made some plays," said the 2011 first-round pick, who has completed 14 of 22 passes for 216 yards and one touchdown this preseason, good for a passer rating of 111.2.

"I made the plays that I was supposed to make. There's a couple of plays I would like to have back and perform better on, but we scored points. Obviously that's the No. 1 goal we have as an offense, is to score points.

"We'd definitely like more touchdowns. We've had a lot of field goals. But the good news is we haven't punted as a [first-team] offense, and that's a good sign. There's a lot of stuff we have to work on, but we have two weeks to do it and we'll be ready to roll."

Looking back to last year when the Vikings were 3-13, Ponder pointed out that in nine of the games in 2011 the Vikings were either in a two-minute drill at the end of the game or the other offense was in a two-minute drill.

"That just shows how close we are," he said. "We could have been 9-7 instead of 3-13. It's pretty crazy how close we were."

Ponder, who played hurt most of the second half of the season, took the blame for many of last year's losses.

"I had way too many turnovers and definitely cost us some games," he said. "But I think if I get better, the whole team will get better, and we're maturing. Last year was the first year in the offense under [Bill] Musgrave, so everyone in the offense, and you can already tell in the preseason, that everyone is more confident and comfortable in what they're doing. Obviously 3-13 is not something to be proud of, but the good thing is it can only get better from there."

Ponder talked about how big the jump is from being a college QB to a second-year quarterback in the NFL.

"That's why, again, I feel so much more comfortable this year, because I'm so much more knowledgeable and comfortable with my reads," he said. "I spent so much time with Coach Musgrave, and he did a great job of making sure that I knew what I was doing with the ball before the snap ever happened. That allows me to get the ball out quicker and be decisive and it's helping me out."

Ponder credits the rebuilt offensive line for a good deal of the improvement he has shown so far this preseason.

"They are playing tremendous right now," he said. "I have so much time in the pocket, and they're allowing me to get to my third or fourth read on the plays. It makes my job very easy, and they are doing tremendous. They put in a lot of work over the OTAs and the offseason and [Jeff] Davidson, the offensive line coach, has done a great job with them. The guys are stepping up and doing great."

Ponder said the Vikings have a lot more weapons than they had last season.

"Adding Jerome Simpson and having Percy Harvin, everyone knows about Percy already, and having Michael Jenkins, who I think is the leader of that group, the veteran guy that everyone looks up to, to lead that group," Ponder said of his wide receivers. "Stephen Burton is a guy that's really stepped up as of late and impressed me in the offseason. There's a ton of guys that can step up. They're a young group and they excite me. There's a lot of guys getting open and making big plays for me."

The fact that all of the media and oddsmakers are counting the Vikings out doesn't mean a thing, according to Ponder.

"We have very high expectations for ourselves. Every year we expect ourselves to be in the Super Bowl, and if you don't have that mindset you've already lost," he said. "Obviously, it's a very tough division, and we knew that going into it and we want to go out and compete and make the playoffs. We know it's a tough job, but we're looking forward to it."

Need to raise $50M

A lot of people thought that as part of the $900 million Vikings stadium bill, Target Center was going to be awarded $135 million to remodel the arena. But as it turns out, Target Center gets about $85 million from the city of Minneapolis, and the remaining $50 million is being negotiated by three parties who will benefit by improving the arena to a point where it can really compete with Xcel Energy Center for major events.

The three parties are the Glen Taylor-owned Timberwolves and Lynx; Anschutz Entertainment Group, which manages the arena; and the Delaware North Companies, which handles concessions and catering. Wolves Senior Vice President Ted Johnson said he expects the negotiating to be done by late September so the remodeling can start.

Jottings

• The word from a good source is that Twins ticket and other revenue sources will be down $5 million-plus from 2011.

• Asked about the future status of infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who to date has been a failure despite the Twins' investment of some $14 million in him, team General Manager Terry Ryan said the contract, which has one more year to go on it, is guaranteed, and there can't be any buyout. Asked if any one scout recommended the Japanese player, Ryan said the Twins had several scouts recommend that the team sign him.

• The Twins and Gophers are offering bargains to increase attendance, with the Twins making available $14 tickets in the right-field bleachers and the Gophers are offering two-game football packs for as little as $70. The Gophers are also offering a package that includes a ticket, a soft drink and a hot dog for $25.

• The St. Thomas football team, a powerhouse last year, was selected No. 8 in the 2012 preseason top 25 poll by D3Football.com. The Tommies, who in 2011 went 13-1 and reached the NCAA quarterfinals for the third year in a row, graduated four All-Americas among its 14 seniors but have a good nucleus returning.

• Tarvaris Jackson's future in Seattle might look bleak, since the former Vikings quarterback doesn't appear likely to beat out former Packers backup Matt Flynn for the Seahawks starting job. The team guaranteed Flynn $10 million after acquiring him over the offseason. So far, Jackson hasn't played in either of Seattle's preseason games. Third-round pick Russell Wilson has been very impressive, with the former Wisconsin standout completing 22 of 33 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns through two games. He has also rushed eight times for 92 yards and one touchdown.

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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