Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Vikings 2013 look ahead: Quarterbacks

Posted by: Mark Craig under On the road, Quarterbacks, Vikings, Lions, NFC, NFL draft, Packers, Leslie Frazier, Adrian Peterson, Leslie Frazier, Percy Harvin, Sage Rosenfels Updated: January 20, 2013 - 10:50 AM
The Vikings coaching staff and front office are in the process of fully evaluating their roster as they plan for the opening of free agency in March as well as April’s NFL Draft. As General Manager Rick Spielman, head coach Leslie Frazier and their respective staffs put their heads together, the Access Vikings team is doing the same. We are in the middle of delivering snapshot evaluations of every position group. Today, we look at the quarterbacks.
 
QUARTERBACKS
 
Get excited: The word “excited” is a little too strong a word to use while discussing starter Christian Ponder. But even the most stubborn anti-Ponders among us would – or should – admit privately that Ponder’s final month of the regular season was “encouraging.”
After literally throwing away the first Green Bay game with two ridiculous interceptions at Lambeau Field on Dec. 2, Ponder pulled it together in a way that had to surprise even his most blindly optimistic supporters. Needing to win their final four games – including two on the road and one at home against a Packers team that had won 12 straight division games – the Vikings went 4-0 because Ponder complemented Adrian Peterson’s greatness with exactly the kind of efficient, alert, ball-secure play the Vikings currently ask of him.
Ponder threw only one interception in the final four games and closed the regular season with his best game as a professional. Knowing it was a win-and-you’re-in-the-playoffs situation against the Packers, Ponder had a career-high 120.2 passer rating, tied a career high with three touchdown passes and didn’t turn the ball over. How is that not impressive?
Unfortunately for the Vikings, they’ll never know how much more shocking their 10-win season could have been had Ponder not injured the triceps/elbow on his throwing arm and missed the playoffs. But one thing became abundantly clear early on in that wild-card loss at Green Bay: Without Ponder, the 2012 Vikings had absolutely zero chance of beating a quality team.
Overall, this season was another pogo-stick ride with Ponder at the handlebars. But the good moments outnumbered the bad.
Remember the unthinkable comeback in Week 1 against the Jaguars? The 94.7 passer rating in the upset of the 49ers in Week 3? Starting the year with four interception-free games? The 114.2 passer rating in that Week 10 win over the Lions? The first drives down the stretch against Chicago, at St. Louis, at Houston and the Packers?
There were bad moments, too. Bad enough that maybe Ponder won’t prove to be this team’s quarterback for the next decade. But he made enough progress to prove that he’s the answer in 2013.
Some critics will never buy that. And that’s fine. But Ponder did help this team win 10 games. And he did it with a thin receiving corps that lost its only playmaker (Percy Harvin) in Week 9.
 
Keep an eye on: If nothing else, the playoff loss proved Joe Webb as Ponder’s primary backup is a flawed plan for a contending team.
So now what?
McLeod Bethel-Thompson isn’t ready to step up from No. 3 QB. And fans need to let go of Sage Rosenfels. Folks, he’s not coming back. Let … it … go.
The Vikings will at least explore alternative options for a No. 2 QB in 2013. But THEY WON’T BE LOOKING FOR ANYONE TO COMPETE WITH CHRISTIAN PONDER. So that rules out acquiring Alex Smith, so let go of that one, too.
And, no, Joe Flacco isn’t a possibility. His contract is up after this season, but … he … isn’t … leaving … Baltimore.
Remember, the Vikings are looking at experienced veteran backups who will be available in free agency. They aren’t elite QBs. They’re guys like Derek Anderson, Matt Moore, David Carr, Matt Leinart, Byron Leftwich, Bruce Gradkowski, Jason Campbell and Rex Grossman.
We’ll assume the Vikings will pass on a T-Jack reunion.
 
Reason for worry: Granted, it’s asking a lot to have a guy start a playoff game at Lambeau Field after not attempting a pass all season. But the very nature of playing backup quarterback requires one to possess the ability to hold down the proverbial fort while knowing your opportunities are going to be few and far between.
Webb never has been an accurate passer. He’s a big, fast athlete who was drafted in the sixth round to play receiver. But his inability to throw with any shred of accuracy in the playoff game was alarming and added another bullet point to GM Rick Spielman’s offseason To-Do List.
If anything, Webb has regressed as a passer during his three years of NFL tutoring. And that has thrust the Vikings into an offseason predicament that they never expected to be facing when the left the Metrodome after clinching that unlikely playoff berth back on Dec. 30.
This decision has many layers and reasons to worry. Webb still has value as an athlete and someone with potential to run the read-option attack that’s spreading throughout the league. Finding a way to use him could really help an offense that needs more playmakers and unpredictability.
Therefore, the Vikings could go back to an earlier plan that positioned Webb as the No. 3 QB behind a more experienced veteran backup. In that spot, the risk of injury would be diminished, so Webb’s speed and athleticism could be used in some capacity other than holding a clipboard on game day.
Of course, going that route would mean the Vikings just wasted a year developing Bethel-Thompson. MBT is a player the coaches really like. He might have the best arm on the team and could work his way up to No. 2 with more seasoning.
So the Vikings head into 2013 with their starter set, but still have a lot of questions to answer behind him.

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Baltimore 2 FINAL
Detroit 15
NY Yankees 5 FINAL
Philadelphia 5
Northeastern 1 FINAL
Boston 2
Miami-Fla 1 FINAL
Miami 7
Pittsburgh 8 FINAL
Toronto 7
San Francisco 4 FINAL
Oakland 9
Cleveland 0 FINAL
Cincinnati 10
Boston College 0 FINAL
Boston 1
Arizona State 0 FINAL
Arizona 4
Boston 79 FINAL
Cleveland 110
LA Lakers 103 FINAL
Charlotte 104
Sacramento 124 FINAL
New York 86
Houston 96 FINAL
Atlanta 104
Utah 93 FINAL
Memphis 82
Washington 92 FINAL
Chicago 97
Milwaukee 95 FINAL
Denver 106
Nashville 1 FINAL
New Jersey 3
Calgary 3 FINAL(OT)
Philadelphia 2
Washington 5 FINAL
Columbus 3
Buffalo 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay 3
Toronto 3 FINAL
Florida 2
Ottawa 2 FINAL(SO)
Minnesota 3
NY Islanders 2 FINAL(OT)
Dallas 3
Anaheim 4 FINAL
Arizona 1
Los Angeles 5 FINAL
Edmonton 2
San Jose 6 FINAL
Vancouver 2
Ole Miss 82 FINAL
Alabama 74
Eastern Mich 67 FINAL
Ball State 60
Kent State 81 FINAL
Bowling Green 80
Ohio 66 FINAL
Buffalo 93
Georgetown 60 FINAL
Butler 54
Toledo 77 FINAL
Central Mich 85
Rhode Island 59 FINAL
Dayton 75
Youngstown St 67 FINAL
Detroit 77
North Carolina 81 FINAL
Georgia Tech 49
Loyola-Maryland 45 FINAL
Holy Cross 62
Iowa 77 FINAL
Indiana 63
Akron 63 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 70
Army 52 FINAL
Navy 56
Maryland 60 FINAL
Rutgers 50
Kennesaw St 54 FINAL
USC Upstate 90
Jacksonville 63 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 81
Lipscomb 76 FINAL
Northern Ky 73
Stetson 67 FINAL
North Florida 81
Wright State 57 FINAL
Ill-Chicago 60
Western Mich 63 FINAL
Northern Ill 65
Nebraska Omaha 80 FINAL
North Dakota 78
Houston Baptist 71 FINAL
Abilene Christian 83
NC State 66 FINAL
Clemson 61
Texas A&M 62 FINAL
Florida 66
Kentucky 72 FINAL
Georgia 64
West Virginia 69 FINAL
Kansas 76
Auburn 61 FINAL
Missouri 63
Michigan 78 FINAL
Northwestern 82
Villanova 76 FINAL
Creighton 72
Longwood 55 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 63
Charleston Southern 39 FINAL
Presbyterian 47
Coastal Carolina 54 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 68
NJIT 51 FINAL
UMass Lowell 60
West Virginia 55 FINAL
Kansas State 59
TCU 45 FINAL
Texas 79
Fresno State 61 FINAL
Air Force 41
San Jose St 76 FINAL
Boise State 91
Nevada 61 FINAL
Colorado State 68
UNLV 61 FINAL
San Diego State 76
Wyoming 61 FINAL
Utah State 57
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago NoonX13-9

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