Pondering What's Next For The Vikings' QB
By Travis West
With Percy Harvin gone and the Minnesota Vikings receiving corps in need of more talent, the already struggling Christian Ponder may be in for the most difficult season of his three-year career.
The Vikings did what they could in free agency. After trading Percy Harvin, Minnesota followed it up with the signing of Greg Jennings. Although Jennings has plenty experience, he will need time to find chemistry with Ponder. The only other receiver with experience with Ponder is Jarius Wright who is only getting his feet wet as a second-year player. Jerome Simpson was picked up last season, but has not produced as expected.
Last season Ponder built a rapport with tight end Kyle Rudolph and it resulted in the tight end's nine touchdowns, which was tied for second in the league at the position with Jimmy Graham. Only the Patriots Rob Gronkowski hauled in more. Rudolph and Ponder clearly are on the same page.
An injury in final week of the regular season forced Ponder to miss the team's playoff matchup against the Green Bay Packers with what was reported as a deep triceps bruise in his throwing arm. The injury kept Ponder from making throws necessary to play in that game, but has healed since the Week 17 injury. A healthy Ponder may have been able to pull of the win against the Packers in the wild card game, coming off a win against them just a week earlier.
The saving grace in all of this is Adrian Peterson. Peterson is clearly the offense's first option and will continue to be. After his monstrous season in which he rushed for 2,097, the entire NFL has been on high alert when AP is on the field. There is no doubt that he will always be the first option for the Vikings.But he needs to be protected. Peterson can't run the ball evey down. They need to be able to throw the ball against defenses stacking the box against the run game. Plus. the Vikings are always one injury away from becoming an entirely one-dimensional offense and that is why surrounding Ponder with young talent is such an vital part of his success.
The most successful teams in the NFL have a quarterback who can win them games if necessary. The Vikings are unique in the sense that Peterson has that same ability. But if the Vikings want to become an elite team in the NFL, Ponder will need to not turn the ball over which he did 17 times in 12 games.
Trading Harvin may haunt the Vikings offense. He's been missed before. Up until Harvin’s injury in Week 9 against the Seattle Seahawks, Ponder threw for over 200 yards five times. After Harvin was put on IR, Ponder only threw for over 200 yards twice.
Although his numbers may not show it, Ponder has made improvements. After watching every game of his young career it is clear that there have been positive strides made in his poise and confidence to stand in the pocket and deliver the ball. He has made some impressive throws in the Week 17 win over the Packers, but will need to show more for the team to fully buy into Ponder under center.
The Vikings signing of veteran quarterback Matt Cassel seems to have been an insurance move in case Ponder gets hurt. Head coach Leslie Frazier has already expressed his thoughts on Ponder's status saying that Cassel is aware who the starter is. Cassel can also serve as a mentor to Ponder. The veteran had rough times in Kanas City, but has shown that he can handle adversity.
Surrounding Ponder with solid role players seems to be the route the Viking want to take. Jennings provides veteran leadership to the fourth-youngest team in NFL and will open the field up for players like Rudolph and Wright.
The NFL Draft is nearing and the Vikings are expected to choose a wideout early on to improve their depth at the position. It has been rough going for the Vikings' passing game, but with Peterson steering the offense and a healthy Ponder playing co-pilot, it may look as if the Vikings may have found their own winning formula.