First, let me state up front that I am not a front-office guy or a coach for the Minnesota Vikings, nor do I have the privilege to sit and watch game film, so this is based on observing every game the Vikings have played this year. I would assume that most, if not all, of you are in a similar situation.
There seems to be much ballyhoo over Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder. As of this article, the Vikings are 7-6 and Ponder has 23 starts. He has not been stellar, nor has he been awful, as some have suggested in their colorful comments. And let me address that. All the disparaging comments out there regarding Ponder influenced me to write this article, because I not only found many of the comments to be amusing, but also insidious. It's amazing how little thought people will put into comments. Imagine if they were actually held accountable for irresponsible comments?
At that same time, I have read some great comments, as opposed to those that are just plain, well, you know, “out there.” The goal of this article is to lay out an argument for and against Ponder.
Without boring you with all the background—No. 12 selection of the first round, arm strength, etc.—let’s just get to it.
The coaches and the organization evaluating this kid are the best ones to assess his performance up to this point. As fans, we can second-guess, affirm or otherwise comment, because that is our Constitutional right, but we should also be fair in our analysis, not the foaming dogs waiting at the gate for the next meal.
As a former high school football coach, I can say with complete confidence that had I prejudged a player in ninth grade, I could have missed out on someone by the time they reached their junior or senior year.
Who can remember that kid who couldn’t run the ropes and tripped all over himself, only to become an outstanding contributor or player a few years later? Or the offensive lineman you swore couldn’t block granny with a walker, but signed a scholarship with a D-II school three years later?
We the fans need to be patient with Christian Ponder. Several past players have come out and supported Ponder, and even some fans who commented on that were out of line questioning the expertise, experience and knowledge of these former players.
Those couch potatoes of the football illiterate club, who probably play football on Xbox, have no idea. A great head coach that I worked for once said, “Those who know don’t speak. Those who don’t know never shut up.” I love that quote. It speaks volumes about the back-and-forth of the article comment world.
So, what to do about Ponder? Again, I am not going to run through the numbers. I am not going to discuss the deplorable depth and ability of this crop of receivers, because that would squarely place some of the blame on personnel because we signed several “castoffs,” or missed on draft choices, but clearly we have one of the poorest receiving corps in the NFL. We all know the numbers, so let’s look at the intangibles.
Ponder is a leader. Several players have indicated as much. There is no doubt he needs a lot of work (footwork, pocket presence), but does it make sense for the Vikings to bench him and put in Webb? Of course not, and if you think otherwise than you are not thinking clearly.
Webb is not an NFL quarterback. I repeat, not an NFL QB. He’s a gimmick, and to me he's a waste of a roster spot. Sure, everyone sees athletic ability, but to run an NFL offense for 16 games is another matter. Webb might be good for a series here or there, maybe even a game or two, but he is clearly not the answer.
I know many fans are sitting there looking at Colin Kaepernick and saying: Why not? Kaepernick and Webb are at different levels. Kaepernick more than proved his worth at Nevada. Joe Webb attended Alabama-Birmingham. Look, when you live in Alabama and you don’t attend Auburn or 'Bama, that speaks volumes to me. Joe is not the answer no matter how much you want to believe that.
And let’s not forget fans who say, “Look at Luck or RGIII, or Wilson for that matter.” Comparing Ponder to those QBs and their situations would be like comparing a cousin in Pittsburgh to one in Mankato—it’s just not a fair comparison.
So, what do the Vikings do? The Vikings are sitting at 7-6, already exceeding most pundits' predictions. I still think we finish 8-8, but 9-7 is very possible. We miss the playoffs, but looking back at our schedule, losing to the Seahawks out west and losing to a very hot Bucs team at home will be the games the Vikings look at when all is said and done. Nonetheless, the Vikings have achieved tremendous strides.
We have seen defenders step up and be players—Harrison Smith, Everson Griffin, Josh Robinson, Christian Ballard, not to mention the handful of regulars that put out every week. We have also seen the emergence of an offensive line that can blow open some holes for the best running back in the NFL. Jarius Wright looks like he may be a real find, and Rudolph certainly looks like he could be the next Gronkowski. We have seen role players step up and contribute nicely.
So in the end, it doesn’t resemble a shattered franchise. Ponder needs time to continue his development, and he desperately needs weapons. Troy Aikman said during the Packers game, “Get Ponder help first, then worry about Ponder.” Or close to that. I agree. He even said that Joe Montana couldn’t complete passes to this receiving corps. Simply put, they’re awful.
The Vikings should pursue a few free agents this offseason. We missed out on Vincent Jackson, and why not? We had Aromashodu and Jenkins. We wasted signings on defensive backs who are not even here anymore, and our young cover guns have responded pretty nicely.
We’ve clearly missed some opportunities, so if the Vikings are serious, they will look at free-agent receivers who can alter the field of play. Dwayne Bowe could be a possibility, or maybe Greg Jennings (doubtful) or perhaps Mike Wallace (too much money). Whatever it is, the Vikings need to consider whether free agency or the first or second round can yield a big-time catch.
On the quarterback front, trade Joe Webb. Trust me, he’s a bigger project than Tarvaris Jackson.
Look to sign a veteran free agent who knows they are the backup. Rationale. Someone like a Matt Moore, Luke McCown or Bruce Gradkowski would be a good signing, because those guys have the veteran leadership and game experience.
Think about it: Ponder has Webb and Bethel-Thompson to look toward for experience or knowledge? You look at most other young guns, and they have some veteran QB on their team assisting in their development. The Vikings need that for Ponder.
And if—and that’s a big IF in my book—Ponder should falter next year, we have a stopgap, draft a QB in 2014 (maybe Johnny “Football” Manziel comes out early) and move on.
I think Ponder needs and deserves another full year. We have heard the comparisons to Eli Manning and Drew Brees in their first two years. We have also heard of David Carr and Jimmy Clausen too. Ponder stands on the edge of proving the Vikings right or wrong. Clearly both parties have a vested interest and responsibility to the franchise.
These next three games are important for Ponder, the Vikings and the coaches. I do not expect Ponder to light it up all of a sudden. I would like to see him take more control of his receivers, be more demanding, get in their face, scan the field better. Show the gravitas that is needed in the NFL to be a successful slinger of the rock. I think most Vikings fans would accept solid play.
Last note: I believe the coaches have hamstrung Ponder. I believe they lack creativity to create more options for him. I believe they worry about the INTs.
The coaches need to decide whether to take the chains off Ponder or kid-glove him for the remainder of the season with the hopes that the flower will bloom in 2013. By season’s end, if Ponder leaves more questions than answers, then the Vikings will have a complicated matter to discuss within the hierarchy.
For the Vikings' sake and the fans', let’s hope Ponder shows positive gains these last few weeks and temporarily puts to rest our anxiety.