EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — Christian Ponder says he needs to get rid of the ball quicker.
Charlie Johnson says the offensive line has to do a better job of protecting their quarterback.
No matter whom you believe, there is no disputing that the Minnesota Vikings have a lot to work on as the regular season opener approaches.
Ponder was sacked five times in less than three quarters against San Diego on Friday night and never really appeared to be on the same page with an offensive line that only has two players in the same positions from last year’s group.
“It takes a little bit to kind of develop that chemistry,” rookie left tackle Matt Kalil said. “Getting in the playbook a little bit more to find out how far he’s going to drop and when I need to step up and protect the inside. It just takes a little bit. There are things to work on and that’s what preseason’s about, getting better.”
The only problem for the Vikings (No. 29 in APPro32) is that Ponder and many of the starters will not play in the exhibition finale at Houston on Thursday.
That means that most, if not all, of the improvement that needs to be made ahead of the regular season opener against Jacksonville on Sept. 9 will have to be made in practice.
“There’s a lot of work that we need to do,” coach Leslie Frazier said on Sunday. “We’ve made tremendous strides along the way. We think we’re much improved across the board on offense. But there’s obviously some things we’ve got to get better at.”
The first-team offense looked solid in the first two weeks, with Ponder looking more assured in his reads as he prepares to open his first full season as a starter and the offensive line getting used to not having veterans Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera around anymore.
Kalil was taken fourth overall in April, Johnson was moved from left tackle to left guard to replace Hutchinson and Brandon Fusco is starting at right guard in place of Herrera.
The continuity dissolved on Friday night against the Chargers, with Kalil being responsible for at least one of the sacks, Toby Gerhart having difficulty finding running room and Ponder going just 9 for 16 for 115 yards and an interception while looking a little indecisive at times in the pocket.
“I got myself in trouble,” Ponder said after the game. “I was getting back at the top of my drop and I was just sitting there. That puts a lot of pressure on our tackles. I’ve got to a lot better job of stepping up and moving forward.”
He could also use a little more help at times from his blockers up front and a group of receivers that are still looking to establish an identity outside of top target Percy Harvin.
Much of training camp has been devoted to getting the offensive line to form a cohesive unit, and there have been signs of promise and signs of struggles along the way.
“I don’t think there’s any o-line out there right now that’s where they want to be, regardless of new parts or if they’ve been together (for a long time),” Johnson said. “That’s what you’re here to work on. To say that we’re there three weeks into a camp would be ridiculous. We’re not where we want to be. But that’s stuff that we work on, we strive for and hopefully we can hit our peak Week 1.”
The biggest key is getting Kalil up to speed as the man who is expected to be protecting Ponder’s blindside for the next decade. He’s been practicing against All-Pro Jared Allen every day and says he’s gradually getting comfortable with the level of competition.
“As a whole, the offensive line has played well,” Kalil said. “We feel a lot more comfortable with each other. I’m feeling a lot more comfortable out there. Things are slowing down and I feel good.”
Johnson said he didn’t think Ponder deserved all of the blame.
“We need to protect for however long we need to protect, whether it’s three, four, five, 10 seconds,” he said. “However long we need to protect, we need to be better at. That’s something as an offensive line that we kind of want to do. We want to give him as much time as possible to make plays downfield, so in that aspect it wasn’t good enough.”
NOTES: Frazier said CB Josh Robinson (concussion), CB Chris Cook (concussion), DT LeTroy Guion (knee) and TE John Carlson (knee) all will not play on Thursday against Houston but are expected to be ready for the season opener. … Joe Webb will start at QB against the Texans.
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