While three straight blowout losses have turned up the heat on Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and his staff, general manager Rick Spielman says the organization stands firmly behind its head coach and is optimistic things will turn around this season.
”Leslie Frazier is not going anywhere,” Spielman said Friday. ”I am telling you that we are very committed to Leslie Frazier and this coaching staff. And we’re committed to our players, and everybody is working extremely hard to get this thing turned around.”
The Vikings have opened the season with six losses in their first seven games, and the defeats have grown progressively more one-sided as the season has worn on. The Vikings came out of their bye week with losses to Carolina, the Giants and Green Bay over the last three weeks and have started a different quarterback in each of those games.
Frazier announced Friday that Christian Ponder will start his second straight game when the Vikings play at Dallas on Sunday, a somewhat surprising decision over Josh Freeman, who was brought in three weeks ago to get a shot to become the long-term solution at the position.
Frazier said he was ”trying to pick the guy you feel like would give you the best chance to be successful on Sunday, and we think that’s Christian.”
Ponder went 0-3 to start the season, sat out the team’s only victory with injured ribs, and was benched for two more games while veteran Matt Cassel and Freeman got chances to bring some dynamic play to the offense. All three have tried, and all three have failed, calling into question Spielman’s ability to evaluate players at the game’s most important position.
Spielman said he leaves the decision on who plays totally up to Frazier, but did say they continue to evaluate the future of all three players, both in games and at practice.
”I know by the end of the year we should definitely have idea on what direction if we have a franchise quarterback on this roster right now, or do we have to go into the draft potentially and look for a franchise quarterback, or where do we go at the end of the season,” Spielman said. ”But if you don’t have them in your building to get a fair assessment and true evaluation, this will give you a clearer picture of the direction you have to go at the end of the year.”
That they still don’t know is one of the biggest reasons they’re in last place in the NFC North this season. Spielman has long been one of Ponder’s biggest backers in the organization, and he spoke confidently before the year began that the former 12th overall draft pick would break out in his third season.
That hasn’t happened. Ponder is completing just over 60 percent of his passes with just two touchdowns and five interceptions on the season. He has looked skittish in the pocket and had difficulty making plays on third down to keep drives alive.
”I understand outside the building there’s not as much patience as there is inside the building because you know the development,” Spielman said. ”But the biggest thing we talked about was where Christian was more consistent toward the end of (last) season, we probably haven’t seen that same consistency through the first part of the season.
”Now if he ends up being our starting quarterback and playing the rest of the games and you see him come on and see that he is playing consistently, then maybe he is the guy we’re going to go into the future with. ”
Freeman had a rough debut against the Giants, completing 37 percent of his passes and looking completely unprepared to play. He missed last week with a concussion and Spielman said the team could still evaluate him at practice if he’s not playing in games.
”If Christian Ponder is playing the rest of the year and we’re winning games, I’m totally fine with that,” Spielman said. ”Our goal is to win ball games and whatever we have to do to get this turned around to win games, we’re going to do.”
As patient as the organization appears to be with the coaching staff right now, Spielman did say the only way they will measure success going forward is by victories. He complimented Frazier’s leadership and ability to keep the players focused during such a tough start. But in the end, wins and losses will likely make the decision.
”We’re not in this business not to win,” Spielman said. ”It’s just expected. You expect to go out and win and you expect to go out and win every week and that’s what this business is about, is getting wins.”