Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ponder's days appear numbered in Minnesota

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MANKATO, Minn. -- Christian Ponder would welcome a trade if the Minnesota Vikings found a new home for their former starting quarterback, who has been reduced to running the third-string offence in training camp.

But Ponder knows a deal is unlikely given his struggles last season and guaranteed salary for 2014. So he's trying to make the most of his time under a new offensive staff led by co-ordinator Norv Turner and the few practice reps he gets behind Matt Cassel and rookie Teddy Bridgewater.

"There are benefits for me being here," Ponder told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday. "I'm learning a lot. It's less stressful. At the same time, I've always got to be ready, because football's a crazy game. I could play at some point. But it's an opportunity for me to learn. I do really feel like it's going to benefit me in the long run.

"If something happens -- I get traded, or there's an opportunity elsewhere to play -- I want to play. But this is where I am right now. I can't control it."

Ponder, 26, was the No. 12 overall pick in the 2011 draft and started 35 games over his first three NFL seasons. But he lost the job for good in 2013, when he posted a 77.9 passer rating in nine starts, and the Vikings moved on by re-signing Cassel and using another first-round pick (32nd overall) on Bridgewater.

The Vikings owe Ponder a fully guaranteed $1,760,277 base salary in the last year of his rookie contract, though that figure could be offset in part if they cut him and he signs elsewhere. As of now, the most likely scenario is the Vikings keep three quarterbacks, giving them options if something happens to Cassel -- the probable Week 1 starter -- and Bridgewater isn't deemed ready.

"For as hard as it's been for (Ponder), he's been a true pro's pro, and I know how difficult that is and the circumstances he's in right now," Vikings general manager Rick Spielman told USA TODAY Sports.

"But Christian has done everything asked, has really worked his tail off, and I think he should be commended for that, too. Very easily, it could've become a distraction, and he's been nothing but positive with the current circumstance he's in."

It'd be tougher if Ponder weren't in a good place personally. His wife, ESPN reporter Samantha Ponder, gave birth July 2 to a daughter named Bowden Sainte-Claire Ponder, whom they're calling "Scout." The two have been on sidelines often during camp.

"I can get frustrated in practice. When you're getting three reps a day, you can walk away and be a little disappointed," Ponder said. "I go in the locker room, check my phone, and my wife sent me a picture of our daughter smiling. The fact that some things are more important than football, it definitely helps."

What does Ponder need to do to be an NFL starter again?

"I've got to go to the right situation, and there obviously are things I've got to improve upon in my play," Ponder said. "The turnovers (45 in 35 NFL games) were big with my three years as a starter. That's something I've got to change and keep developing the mental side of the game. That's something that Norv and Scott (Turner, the Vikings' quarterbacks coach) really preach.

"We're doing a lot of protections and being able to check plays and change plays at the line. We're doing a lot more. I think it's really going to help me in the mental side of things and understanding the game. It's just getting that next level and not making the same mistakes I did before."

 

-- USA Today

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 15, 2014 C2

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