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.


Quarterback snapshot: How well can the Christian Ponder-Matt Cassel tandem function?

Posted by: under Quarterbacks, Vikings, NFL draft, Leslie Frazier, Adrian Peterson, Leslie Frazier, Vikings draft Updated: April 18, 2013 - 8:37 AM
As the NFL Draft approaches, the Access Vikings team is taking a position-by-position look at what will be available, offering insight and analysis on top draft prospects both through print and via daily “Access Vikings: The Show” videos. In addition, here on the blog, we’ll give you a brief review of how the Vikings are set up at each position heading into the draft.
Today’s snapshot: Quarterbacks
Current starter: Christian Ponder
Reserves under contract: Matt Cassel, Joe Webb, McLeod Bethel-Thompson
Biggest offseason move: When the inevitable finally occurred and Matt Cassel was released by the Chiefs on March 14, the Vikings quickly pounced. They had put out a “Help Wanted” ad for a back-up quarterback and saw a guy in Cassel whom they trusted to assume that role with professionalism and comfort. Cassel was given a two-year deal that could be worth up to $7.4 million. But there is also a fine-print provision within the soon-to-be 31-year-old’s contract that would allow him to opt out of the 2014 portion of things shortly after next season ended.
In essence, both Cassel and the Vikings have given themselves a safety net. For the Vikings, if it’s determined at any point in 2013 or at season’s end that Christian Ponder is not the long-term answer at quarterback, Cassel’s presence would provide a bridge as the organization searches for its next solution at the position. And Cassel himself could be an option there. 
But if Ponder excels in 2013 and locks down the role as the starter with no signs of relenting it, then Cassel could weigh his alternatives and have the option to seek a starting role elsewhere.
Level of draft need: None. Heading into the season, Ponder is the undisputed starter. Cassel owns the back-up role. With so many other needs, using a pick on a quarterback next week seems impractical.
You should know: Vikings coach Leslie Frazier feels very strongly about what Cassel will bring to the team at practice and in meetings. Here’s an exchange Frazier had with the Star Tribune at the NFL’s annual meetings in Phoenix last month …
Before the offseason heated up, you guys made it very clear that Christian is the starter. The opening was for a back-up. Matt had experience as a back-up in college behind Carson Palmer, behind Matt Leinart. He gets to New England and backs up Tom Brady. What was your feel for his understanding of that role?
Frazier: “You sense that he gets it. In my conversations with him, he made that very clear. He understands the needs for a back-up and how the back-up should conduct himself. That was great to hear. That was such a big part of us consummating this deal -- that he would understand his role and then understand the importance of a back-up handling that role the correct way. He made it very clear to me that he understood that. He’s experienced this league as a starter, he’s experienced this as a back-up. So to me, it was hey let’s get the deal done.”
And obviously he has 2008. Brady gets hurt early in the first game and just like that, he’s got the controls the rest of the season for the Patriots.
Frazier: “Exactly. And we talked about that. And we talked about his time in Kansas City when he was a starter and how his back-ups handled themselves. I like that he’s been on both ends of it. He knows the importance of that role and how to handle it.”
So what can he do with Christian so they are working in tandem and obviously the back-up is at least helping your starter to grow and develop?
Frazier: “Matt’s experience will help Christian. Being in that meeting room and being able to see things, being able to point things out. Christian hasn’t really had that per se since he became our starter. He hasn’t had that veteran back-up who might see some things that the coaches might not see. Or to speak from a players’ perspective. That’ll be big. And I think Matt’s practice habits, the way he prepares are a big deal. All those same things he learned from Tom Brady, Matt will now be able to instill some of those values with our young quarterbacks. We talked about that. He noted a lot of the things he learned from Tom. He took those to Kansas City and now he’ll bring that to our situation in Kansas City. Some of the things he explained to me about his relationship with Tom and watching how he prepared, Matt felt it really helped him. And I think that’ll help Christian now as well.”
One more thing: With Ponder, the Vikings will be looking for more consistency and signs of growth in 2013. The excuse of being a young player with limited experience is no longer valid. Ponder has 26 starts under his belt and now must prove to be reliable week after week after week. To be clear, he won’t ever be asked to be the superstar of this offense. Not so long as Adrian Peterson is whizzing around the backfield. But Ponder will again be asked to be efficient, to cut down on costly errors. That again means avoiding drive-killing sacks and game-turning turnovers.
It’s hard for the Vikings to know which Ponder will show up more often in 2013. Will it be the guy who failed to throw for 100 yards in three contests last season, the guy who had a rating below 60 on five occasions, the guy who torpedoed the team’s upset bid at Lambeau Field in Week 13 by going seven consecutive possessions without a completion while also throwing two brutal red zone interceptions in the second half? Or will Ponder ride the momentum and confidence he built in the final four weeks of the regular season into Year 3? During that stretch, he helped the Vikings’ surge into the playoffs with four straight wins by taking only five sacks and turning the ball over just twice. He helped the team score on its opening possession in all four games (three TDs, one field goal) and the Vikings never trailed thereafter in any of those wins. And in the season finale against Green Bay, Ponder threw for 234 yards and three scores while posting a career-best rating of 120.2. Under the brightest of lights with the pressure at its peak. That’s the guy General Manager Rick Spielman believes will show up more often in 2013.
The worst-case scenario for the Vikings is that Ponder struggles enough to indicate he might never be the team’s long-term answer yet displays enough signs of promise to convince the coaching staff and front office that he still needs just a little more time to get over the hump.
The hope in 2013 is that one way or the other, Ponder proves what he is once and for all.
Lastly, on a side note, there has been speculation that Joe Webb may face a conversion back to receiver in 2013. But when asked on multiple occasions last month about a possible position change for Webb, Frazier said his mindset was to take Webb to training camp as a quarterback, asking him to compete for the team’s No. 3 job.
Could that change? Perhaps. Would the Vikings be better off trying to get Webb on the field in some way with his speed and athleticism rather than stashing him down the depth chart at QB? Maybe. But again, Frazier has said directly that he’d prefer not to have Webb change positions.
“I’m not thinking that way, as we speak,” he had said. “I’m seeing Joe as a quarterback. Things may change. But I see him as a quarterback and I see him coming in and competing for a position.”

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Minnesota 16 FINAL
Buffalo 17
Atlanta 7 FINAL
Baltimore 29
Tennessee 17 FINAL
Washington 19
Seattle 26 FINAL
St. Louis 28
Cleveland 6 FINAL
Jacksonville 24
Cincinnati 0 FINAL
Indianapolis 27
Miami 27 FINAL
Chicago 14
New Orleans 23 FINAL
Detroit 24
Carolina 17 FINAL
Green Bay 38
Kansas City 23 FINAL
San Diego 20
Arizona 24 FINAL
Oakland 13
NY Giants 21 FINAL
Dallas 31
San Francisco 17 FINAL
Denver 42
Houston 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Denver
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Boston 95 FINAL
Brooklyn 90
Minnesota 112 FINAL
Oklahoma City 94
Golden State 83 FINAL
Houston 90
Charlotte 96 FINAL
Chicago 101
Utah 91 FINAL
LA Lakers 98
Minnesota 1 FINAL
Los Angeles 2
San Jose 0 FINAL
NY Rangers 4
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Winnipeg 1
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Anaheim 3
TX-San Antonio 20 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 27
Syracuse 30 FINAL
Wake Forest 7
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Minnesota 39
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Fla Atlantic 45
(12) Baylor 27 FINAL
(22) West Virginia 41
(11) Kansas State 31 FINAL
(17) Oklahoma 30
Iowa 31 FINAL
Maryland 38
So Florida 38 FINAL
Tulsa 30
Tulane 13 FINAL
UCF 20
Virginia 13 FINAL
Duke 20
Akron 20 FINAL
Ohio U 23
Western Mich 26 FINAL
Bowling Green 14
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
Massachusetts 36
Appalachian St 53 FINAL
Troy 14
(25) UCLA 36 FINAL
California 34
Texas A&M 0 FINAL
(4) Alabama 59
Army 17 FINAL
Kent State 39
Kansas 21 FINAL
Texas Tech 34
UAB 22 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 34
Rutgers 17 FINAL
(13) Ohio State 56
(8) Michigan State 56 FINAL
Indiana 17
New Mexico 31 FINAL
Air Force 35
NC State 18 FINAL
Louisville 30
(21) Clemson 17 FINAL
Boston College 13
Ball State 32 FINAL
Central Mich 29
Cincinnati 41 FINAL
SMU 3
(9) Georgia 45 FINAL
Arkansas 32
Oklahoma State 9 FINAL
(10) TCU 42
San Jose St 27 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Miami-Ohio 41 FINAL
Northern Ill 51
New Mexico St 17 FINAL
Idaho 29
Colorado 28 FINAL
(20) USC 56
(23) Marshall 45 FINAL
FIU 13
Southern Miss 30 FINAL
North Texas 20
Georgia Tech 43 FINAL
North Carolina 48
Tennessee 3 FINAL
(3) Ole Miss 34
Utah State 13 FINAL
Colorado State 16
Missouri 42 FINAL
Florida 13
Kentucky 3 FINAL
(24) LSU 41
(16) Nebraska 38 FINAL
Northwestern 17
Georgia State 27 FINAL
South Alabama 30
Washington 20 FINAL
(6) Oregon 45
Iowa State 45 FINAL
Texas 48
(7) Notre Dame 27 FINAL
(2) Florida State 31
Nevada 42 FINAL
BYU 35
Stanford 10 FINAL
(14) Arizona State 26
Hawaii 10 FINAL
San Diego St 20
Arkansas State 10/21/14 7:00 PM
Louisiana
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 10/23/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
California
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Columbus 3 FINAL
Red Bull New York 1
Seattle 2 FINAL
Los Angeles 2
Ottawa 6 FINAL
Hamilton 16
Montreal 20 FINAL
Toronto 12
Calgary 33 FINAL
Winnipeg 23
Edmonton 24 FINAL
Saskatchewan 19
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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 Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

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