Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was asked Tuesday what he’d like to see from third-string quarterback Christian Ponder in Thursday night’s final preseason game at Tennessee. His answer summed up what everyone has been waiting to see in Ponder since the Vikings selected the Florida State QB 12th overall three years ago.
“Just have the poise, when he’s getting rushed, to make the right throws,” Zimmer said.
That sentence, and Ponder’s consistent inability to fulfill it, sums up Ponder’s fall from future franchise quarterback hopeful at age 22 to current third-string insurance policy/trade bait/one-more-year-afterthought at age 25.
Ponder has enough physical talent to play the position. Zimmer said he thinks Ponder’s arm strength is underrated. And maybe he’s right. But it’s hard to tell since Ponder usually appears either too slow to decipher and/or unwilling to trust his arm for fear of making a mistake. Sometimes, you’d like for him to just make a bad decision as opposed to, well, no decision when it comes to passing the ball.
“I’d like to see him do what he does out here in practice,” Zimmer said. “He made, like, three great throws [Tuesday].”
Ponder proved in 2012 – the year the Vikings went 10-6 and made the playoffs — that he can make the necessary throws. However, what he didn’t prove was he can make them consistently when the pocket collapses and the pass rush is in his face. And in case you haven’t noticed, that happens regularly in the NFL.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner was talking back in May about evaluating college quarterbacks. He said he looks for the guy who “can make the NFL throw” because “I can get 100 guys who can come in here and make the college throw.” Then he showed some film of rookie Teddy Bridgewater making some quick, strong and accurate throws with the pocket collapsed and defenders crowding his legs.
Whether this is something that can be taught is tough to say since each quarterback and quarterback teacher is so different and develops so differently.
Bridgewater has credited Turner with already managing to speed up his dropback, which in turn has helped him buy more time to read the defense, aim at the target and let the ball fly.
Bridgewater most likely will start Thursday night as the Vikings rest No. 1 quarterback Matt Cassel and several starters. Ponder also is expected to play most of the game, so we’ll get a look at his progress or lack thereof for the first time since the preseason opener.
At this point, it appears Ponder will make the final roster and serve as an insurance policy against an injury. Those who don’t like that idea probably would feel differently if Cassel was injured in the first quarter at St. Louis and the Vikings had to play ¾ of that game with just Bridgewater and the next 15 with Bridgewater and some young street free agent who hasn’t been practicing Turner’s offense since March.
Having some experience and mobility at the No. 3 quarterback spot should be viewed as insurance money well spent. Just throwing in the towel if Cassel and Bridgewater were hurt would be admitting it’s OK to just waste another year of Adrian Peterson’s career.
Peterson is having a Hall of Fame-type career. But he’s also 29 years old and has experienced just one playoff victory.