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.


Fearless Ponder faster than he looks

Posted by: Mark Craig under Vikings, Vikings coaches, Leslie Frazier, Adrian Peterson, Anthony Herrera, Kevin Williams, Leslie Frazier, Tyrell Johnson, Visanthe Shiancoe Updated: September 2, 2011 - 12:13 AM

People came to the Metrodome looking to see Christian Ponder throw the ball. But before he could get off the first pass of his Metrodome starting debut, the kid from Florida State had run three times for 30 yards and three first downs.

And that was within the first four minutes of Thursday night's 28-0 preseason win over the Houston Texans.

Adrian who?

"We were teasing him on the sideline," coach Leslie Frazier said. "He showed shades of Adrian [Peterson] out there a few times."

Ponder ran eight times for 61 yards (7.6) before Joe Webb replaced him at the 8:02 mark of the third quarter. Ponder eventually settled down as a passer, helping himself in the yet-to-be-determined competition for the No. 2 job behind Donovan McNabb. 

Frazier said he liked the way Ponder showed "total command" of the offense. Ponder's highlight was an eight-play, 86-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter. He ran once for 15 yards and completed 4 of 4 passes for 33 yards to three different receivers, including an 11-yarder to Jaymar Johnson on third-and-nine and a 5-yarder over the middle for his first touchdown, to friend and fellow rookie Kyle Rudolph.

If all goes as planned for the Vikings, Ponder will spend the season as a backup. He's good, but he's not ready to start in the NFL. If he starts this season, it means something has gone terribly wrong.

But at some point, probably next year, a popular topic will be the way Ponder plays. He's fearless, which could get him hurt in a hurry in the NFL.

"When things break down," Ponder said, "that's the advantage that I have."

Frazier isn't about to tell Ponder he can't tuck it and run.

"You don't want him out there running too much, but you got to let him play," Frazier said. "He has the athletic ability to make plays outside the pocket. You don't want to take that away from him, but in our league when your quarterback is on the run, it does make you hold your breath sometimes."

Especially when he dives head first rather than slide.

 

 

 

"Yeah," Frazier said. "He’s going to have to learn how to slide."

Also, based on body language from the Texans that whiffed or couldn't catch Ponder, defenders underestimate Ponder's speed.

"Yeah, I think people see I’m white and they think I’m slow," Ponder said. "I think definitely one of my positives is my feet and buying extra time and getting outside the pocket when things break down."

Other highlights from the game and Frazier afterward:

  • The Vikings used only three starters. The only one not expected was nose tackle Remi Ayodele. He needed some more conditioning before the opener. Right guard Anthony Herrera started because it was only his second game after major knee surgery nine months ago. Frazier said Herrera will be the starter at right guard. Also, in the only unsettled starting position, Tyrell Johnson got the start while Jamarca Sanford also played. Johnson had a sure pick clang off his hands for an incompletion, so the belief is even stronger now that Sanford has won the job.
  • Frazier said the Vikings were better off under the salary cap than people realize. It's been reported that the team is only $370,000 below the cap. But Frazier said the salary cap will not factor into the team's decisions to pursue players cut from other teams. We'll have to wait to see how that works out.
  • Everson Griffen started at right end before making his debut at weak-side linebacker. Frazier said he did some good things, but was also out of position on ocassion, which is something the coaches expected for a guy who was switched to linebacker on Monday.
  • Rookie Christian Ballard started at left end after spending the rest of the preseason at the three-technique tackle or nose tackle in the nickel. The kid could probably play any position on the line, although he probably doesn't have the speed of a typical right end.
  • Frazier said he thinks he's found a punt returner. It doesn't appear to be Jaymar Johnson. Johnson looked tentative with three returns for a 3.7-yard average. Marcus Sherels had two returns for 14 yards.
  • Adrian Peterson said he was happy for his rival, Titans running back Chris Johnson, who got a four-year, $53.5 million deal with $30 million guaranteed. Peterson downplayed the connection between that deal and the starting point for him in his negotiations with the Vikings. Peterson is in the final year of a deal that pays him $10.72 million this year. "No, no, I don't think it helps me at all,"Peterson said. "Chris Johnson, he's with the Titans, and we're two different players in two different situations. So I don't think it has anything to do with a deal getting done for me." Sorry, not buying it.
  • Frazier said the team still hasn't decided whether to put backup MLB Jasper Brinkley on IR. Brinkley had hip surgery on Tuesday.
  • Other than Brinkley, Frazier said all the injured players will be back at practice next week. That includes RB Lorenzo Booker (back) and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, who missed the entire preseason because of a left hamstring injury. Frazier reported no serious injuries from Thursday night's game.
  • Frazier said the Vikings still haven't been told whether Kevin Williams will have to start serving his StarCaps suspension in Week 1.
  • Asked if Greg Camarillo and Devin Aromashodu have the inside track on the fourth and fifth receiver spots -- as most expect they do -- Frazier said "not necessarily."
  • Final cuts are due by 5 p.m. Saturday. The Vikings' players are off until Monday, when they begin preparing for the regular season opener at San Diego.

 

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