MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As training camp closes down for the Minnesota Vikings, the team has once again bought into the abilities of their third-year quarterback Christian Ponder. So, the team is his to command – for now.
Let’s be fair. MVP running back Adrian Peterson carried the team during the 2012 season, while Ponder picked up most of the slack. And this year, they don’t plan to change too much of the running game attack.
“We are a run-first team, obviously with the best running back in the league,” Ponder said. “We’re gonna utilize him and also utilize him in the pass game.”
But you can’t win games just on the ground. Ponder said the long ball game is picking up from last year.
“Ever since the first day of spring, we got the ball down the field more and that’s exciting to see,” Ponder said. “We’re going to keep developing our pass game. We’ll do better than we did last year.”
According to head coach Leslie Frazier, Ponder has made strides in both decision-making and leadership.
“I’ve seen better command,” Frazier said. “A guy who’s more confident in what he’s doing, and you would expect that in his third year in this system, but it’s great to see. I can see him taking more control of the huddle, interacting more with teammates other than just that small group of guys he’s confident with, and that’s part of growing as a leader.”
Along with improved quarterback play, there’s a renewed sense of excitement in this year’s wide receiver corps, especially with the new No. 84 — rookie and potential big play-maker Cordarelle Patterson.
“(He has) a lot of ability,” Ponder said. “He’s a big body, so obviously a big target for us whether it’s in the return game or as a receiver. When the balls in his hands, he’s gonna make guys miss and get some yards after the catch. I’m sure he’ll be in the (upcoming preseason games) with me some more and we expect him to keep progressing as he has been.”
As for the other new-comer, veteran Greg Jennings, he presents even more opportunities, but some adjustments as well.
“Greg is a guy I can count on,” Ponder said. “It’s just getting on the same page, because he runs routes so much differently than everyone else.”
So, how does Jennings run routes differently?
“Just how he attacks leverage,” Ponder said. “He does a lot of movement with his body and his head a lot, which is great. He does a great job of getting open.”
Frazier had a more in-depth analysis of Jennings.
“He’s not the typical route-runner,” Frazier said. “He does a lot of stemming. And what I mean by that is, for example, if he wants to run an out route, he’s not just going to run straight up the field and break out, he’s gonna stem a defensive back inside to try to get his hips turned or try to get his speed out of whack, and then he’ll break outside.”
When the Vikings travel to meet the Buffalo Bills for the second preseason game Friday night, we’ll see exactly how much Ponder and the wide receivers have gelled so far, but Frazier is confident Ponder can get the job done.
“These last few practices have been some of his best practices, from a decision-making process along with around the huddle,” Frazier said. “But the growth in leadership is what’s been most impressive.”
Training Camp Closes With Fan Appreciation Day
Both Frazier and Ponder shared their thoughts on the fans and Minnesota State University, Mankato.
“We’ve had terrific turnout and I think that’s good for our young players to practice in this atmosphere,” Frazier said. “I’m believing it’s gonna be a plus for us as we’re ready to enter the second preseason game. We’re grateful for the hospitality we’ve been shown.”
“It’s always good for us to do this fan appreciation and sign some autographs,” Ponder added. “They’ve been great. The whole city of Mankato and Mankato State University. The facilities here are awesome. We love being down here and the fans being down here. There’s support every day, whether it’s rain or shine.”