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.
John Sullivan will sit out the team's June mini-camp because of last week's microfracture surgery on his left knee, but three Vikings team sources said the starting center is expected to be ready when training camp opens in late July.
Sullivan, 27, played every offensive snap during the 2012 season and was listed on the injury report with a knee injury only once, Week 13 against Chicago. But lingering pain in the knee eventually led to Sullivan having the surgery performed last week by renowned sports surgeon Dr. James Andrews in Florida. Andrews also performed the knee surgery that held up well enough for Adrian Peterson to collect 2,097 yards rushing and one NFL MVP trophy in 2012.
The recovery period is three to four months. And, so far at least, the NFL doesn't play games in June. So even factoring in a four-month recovery, Sullivan should be fine for the start of training camp.
Sullivan played well enough in his fifth season to earn first alternate to the Pro Bowl. Several have argued that he deserved to play in the game because one of the NFC centers who went ahead of him was Green Bay's Jeff Saturday, who actually was benched for poor play late in the season. Sullivan also earned seven first-team All-Pro votes, including the one cast here, to finish third in the Associated Press' All-Pro voting.
Once again, Leslie Frazier's support of quarterback Christian Ponder was unwavering.
"He's our starter," the Vikings head coach said today during his final press conference of the 2013 season.
As for the team's plans for No. 2 QB Joe Webb and No. 3 QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, well, the support from the top of the Purple coaching tree was polite, but far from unwavering.
"[Webb will] be a guy that will compete for the No. 2 spot again next year, barring something that we may end up doing in our personnel meetings," Frazier said. "But we'll discuss Joe's position and everyone's position in our personnel meetings and then we'll make a decision what's best."
Asked about Bethel-Thompson's status as the No. 3 QB and the possibility that a veteran could be brought in to be the the No. 2 while Webb fills the No. 3 job, Frazier said, "It's so hard to say just two days after our season. ... Our roster is going to change. All of us in this building who've been around this league as long as we have know that. It's hard today to say that Bethel's going to be No. 3 until we see how the roster unfolds."
Webb played only three snaps during the regular season and didn't attempt a pass. Bethel-Thompson was inactive for all 16 games. But they moved up the pecking order when deep bruising on the triceps and elbow of Ponder's throwing arm kept him from playing in Saturday night's 24-10 wild-card playoff loss at Green Bay.
Webb played the whole game and was, well, awful. Trailing the Packers 24-3 after three quarters, Webb had completed 7 of 20 passes for 61 yards, an interception and a 23.1 passer rating.
"Yeah, it was a tough day for Joe," Frazier said. "Tough day all the way around. Put in a tough situation having to go start a playoff game in that environment against a good football team. We still have a lot of confidence in Joe. We understand the circumstances he played in."
Meanwhile, Frazier was clear-cut in his feelings about Ponder being the team's long-term answer at quarterback.
"We're excited about his progress," Frazier said. "The way he played down the stretch, he was great. He had a lot to do with us winning those last four games the way we did. It's unfortunate he wasn't able to play that last ballgame up at Lambeau. He wanted to play. He tried everything he could to get on the field. It just wouldn't have been a wise decision to put him out there with the injury that he had. Just didn't get the flexion back in that tricep. But he did everything in his powers to get out there. His rehab, his work ethic was tremendous. So we're pleased with the progress that he's made.
"We saw glimpses of what he can bring to our football team and the way he led us down the stretch, you feel like you've got a chance to win every game when your quarterback plays the way he played. So we're excited about his development and looking forward to him getting better this offseason."
Kluwe to have surgery on left knee: Punter Chris Kluwe, who spent several weeks on the injury report with a left knee injury, will have surgery to repair the meniscus, Frazier said. Defensive end Jared Allen will have shoulder surgery after the Pro Bowl. Special teamer Tyrone McKenzie (shoulder), cornerback Antoine Winfield (hand) and quarterback Christian Ponder (right triceps, elbow) won't require surgery, while running back Adrian Peterson's abdominal injury will be evaluated after the Pro Bowl. Peterson battled the injury down the stretch and left the Houston game early with it , but only after the Vikings had full control of the game.
Singletary, Priefer to interview with the Bears: Frazier confirmed reports that linebackers coach and special assistant to the head coach Mike Singletary and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer are among the 13 candidates who have been asked to interview for the Bears' vacant head coaching position. Singletary, who played his Hall of Fame career in Chicago, and Priefer, whose NFL coaching career began in 2002 in Jacksonville, joined the Vikings in 2011. Singletary was the 49ers' head coach from the final nine games in 2008 until the 15th game of the 2010 season.
Frazier said he would like to keep this year's coaching staff intact for next season.
"I mentioned earlier that our coaches did a great job getting our players ready to play every week," he said. "Barring someone getting a promotion, I'm hoping all our guys are back. They did a terrific job throughout the season."
Evaluating the season: Frazier obviously was disappointed to see the season end after the first round of the playoffs. But he's also encouraged because, well, you know, all the rest of us thought they'd win six games, max.
"The foundation has really been set for our team without question," Frazier said. "Our core identity showed up. The traits that we talked about throughout the year, about being a tough, smart, disciplined football team were exemplified through this group of young men."
What about that contract extension, Leslie?: Frazier, whose contract expires after next season, is expected to receive an extension soon. Asked if he's talked to ownership about a contract extension, he said: "I haven’t had a chance to talk with them at this point. These last 48 hours in the building have been meeting with players and talking with them about the future and so on, and some other things in their lives. But eventually we will talk and not worried about it. Things will work out just fine. Not worried at all."
Asked if his agent, Bob Lamonte, has spoken with ownership, Frazier said: "Not at this point. But we will have those discussions.”
As it turns out, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder did very little in practice last week. Some light throwing on the side. Delivered handoffs during team drills. But the deep bruise on Ponder’s right arm caused so much discomfort and stiffness in his triceps and elbow that he was never truly himself.
It all led up to a strange plot twist Saturday evening at Lambeau Field when Ponder was declared inactive for a first-round playoff game against the Packers. He was replaced by Joe Webb, who struggled throughout the Vikings’ 24-10 loss.
On locker clean out day Monday at Winter Park, Ponder removed a protective sleeve from his right arm to reveal the nasty bruise that sidelined him. Here's what that looked like in a photo from the Star Tribune's Shari Gross.
Ponder also expressed disappointment in having his season end in that fashion, on an odd Saturday in which his only throws were some feeble soft tosses in a last ditch effort to test the arm in pre-game warm-ups.
“It was [crazy],” Ponder said. “Obviously it wasn’t as much fun as I wanted it to be. I wanted to be out there. Frustrating day. But out of my control. It’s something that makes me hungry to be able to get back and play in a playoff game next year.”
The move to declare Ponder inactive Saturday snuck up on everybody. Head coach Leslie Frazier told the media early in the week that Ponder was dealing with an elbow injury, a result of having banged his arm on the helmet of Green Bay safety Morgan Burnett during the first half of the Vikings' 37-34 win on Dec. 30.
Even after that hit, however, Ponder played the rest of the game. And he and Frazier downplayed the severity of the injury throughout last week before the quarterback was stamped as “questionable” on the official injury report Friday afternoon.
Ponder’s range of motion in the arm was severely limited, rendering him incapable of making even the simplest and softest of throws with any strength. Hence the Vikings were forced into a late change and the move to Webb. With the offense never really in sync -- Webb hadn't thrown a pass during the regular season -- the Vikings magical 2012 run abruptly ended.
And so now Ponder heads into the offseason with emptiness on not being able to suit up in the postseason.
Yet he also will take with him a final performance (234 yards, three TDs) in the regular season finale against Green Bay that seemed to be evidence of growth and his ability to deliver on a big stage with the stakes high. That effort completed a four-game stretch in which Ponder threw only one interception as the Vikings surged from 6-6 to snatch the NFC’s final wild card berth.
Ponder said he used the final four games as a push to show greater care with the offense, “realizing that I needed to take calculated risks and understanding what risks I should and shouldn’t take and getting a wrap around that.”
He also took great pride in the win over Green Bay in the regular season finale.
“That was one of my best memories I’ll ever have playing this game -- hopefully, not the best one,” he said. “Obviously, I have some games and some years ahead where hopefully, we have a Super Bowl ring on our finger.
As for Ponder’s arm injury, he continues to regain movement and flexibility and will just need time for it to heal completely. Alas, the Vikings’ next meaningful game won’t come until September.
Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder will not play in tonight’s playoff game against the Packers, officially declared inactive due to trouble with his right elbow. Ponder banged the elbow of his throwing arm hard on a defender’s helmet in the first half of last week’s home win over Green Bay and the injury gradually got worse after that game finished.
Ponder was limited in practice this week and was officially listed on the injury report Friday as questionable. The Vikings had hoped he would be able to battle through the pain and even took Ponder to the stadium early Saturday afternoon with fellow quarterback Joe Webb and McLeod Bethel-Thompson to test the elbow out.
Ultimately, it appears, the stiffness and pain in Ponder’s elbow was too much, meaning Webb will be the starter in the Vikings’ first playoff game in nearly three years.
As if anything else matters, the Vikings' other inactives tonight are: Tyrone McKenzie, Stephen Burton, Troy Kropog, D'Aundre Reed, Brandon Burton and George Johnson.
GREEN BAY -- Joe Webb might get a chance to throw some passes for the Vikings after all this season.
Quarterback Christian Ponder was listed on the Vikings injury report as questionable because of an elbow injury, but team officials said all week they were confident Ponder would be ready for tonight's game against the Packers here at Lambeau Field.
The two quarterbacks will work out before the game, and an NFL source said "it's looking more likely" that Webb will start, meaning Ponder's elbow might not be ready.
No decision has been made yet.
With Ponder limited in practice all week, Webb has taken snaps with the offense and shouldn't be terribly uncomfortable if pressed into action.
Webb's only action this season has been a kneeldown in victory formation.
We'll have updates as the game nears.
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