Musgrave having rough first year in Minnesota

The odds have been against Bill Musgrave from the start this
season.

He left his job as quarterbacks coach in Atlanta to become the
offensive coordinator in Minnesota, but the lockout robbed him of
the chance to get a head start on installing his system with rookie
quarterback Christian Ponder and the offense.

Musgrave also planned to lean heavily on Adrian Peterson, but
the star running back missed three games because of a sprain ankle.
The Vikings also had high hopes for former Falcons receiver Michael
Jenkins, the only player with a previous connection to Musgrave,
but Jenkins was lost for the season Dec. 1 because of a knee
injury.

Veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb was a bust, prompting the
Vikings to hand the job to Ponder in Week 7.

All have contributed to the Vikings (2-12) sitting at No. 28 in
passing offense heading into their game Saturday at Washington.

”There’s more that we look forward to getting in in a more
orthodox offseason, that’s for sure,” Musgrave said. ”This has
been a season like no other but we still have made tremendous
strides and we’ve learned a lot about our young players and our
veterans. We’ve got two more games to get back on track and get the
outcome that we want.”

Throughout the season, it’s appeared at times as if Musgrave is
still searching for how to best use the personnel he has on the
roster. There have been some head-scratching play calls that have
drawn the ire of the fans, including Sunday in a 42-20 loss to New
Orleans.

The Vikings had the ball in the second quarter at the New
Orleans 13 after a 39-yard run from Peterson. Backup
quarterback/receiver Joe Webb lined up behind center with Ponder
split to his right in the backfield. Two times in a row, Webb faked
a handoff to Ponder to try and confuse the defense. Webb threw an
incomplete pass and managed a 3-yard gain on an option on the next
play.

”We’ve got an eight or 10-play package there,” Musgrave said.
”We’ve only scratched the surface. We’ve got a number of other
plays that we’ve been working on and we’re looking forward to
getting those on tape and getting good at them.”

The Vikings scored on the next play, thanks to a savvy call from
Musgrave in which Toby Gerhart scored on a shovel-pass from Ponder.
But later in the game, they faced a third-and-1 on their own 43.
Rather than call for a power run to pick up the yard, the Vikings
pitched it left to Peterson, who was met in the backfield by Will
Smith and thrown for a 5-yard loss as boos rained down from the
impatient crowd.

”We need to find something that we can hang our hat on these
final two games and say, `You know what, that was good, let’s build
on that,” Frazier said. ”That’s what we’re trying to do in these
last two games.”

But Frazier does remain in Musgrave’s corner, and he said on
Thursday that he is convinced keeping everyone in place is the key
to improving next season.

”I’m really excited about Bill, along with the rest of our
offense,” Frazier said. ”I see things that I know we’re going to
have a quality offense once we get some other pieces in place and
have a full offseason.”

The Vikings rank fourth in the league in rush offense, but many
fans wouldn’t mind seeing Musgrave go.

”I always think it’s a part of this profession,” Musgrave
said. ”The key is focusing each and every week to do your best and
correct the mistakes that you may have made in the previous
weeks.”

Changing offensive coordinators would be problematic because
they would then likely be asking Ponder to learn his second
offensive system in two seasons. Young quarterbacks have struggled
in those scenarios before, none more than 49ers quarterback Alex
Smith, the former No. 1 overall pick who has had a different
offensive coordinator in each of his first seven NFL seasons and
only now is showing signs of putting it all together.

”It’s a killer,” Frazier said about coaching turnover. ”Alex
is a perfect example and there are others throughout history. You
don’t want to do that. If you want Christian to have any chance to
have any immediate success, you’d like to have some consistency
with the offense.”

Ponder, who had a promising start after taking over the job but
has taken a step or two back in the last three games, thinks a full
offseason with the coaches and his teammates would make all the
difference.

”I’m going to spend a lot of time with Bill Musgrave and
(offensive line coach) Jeff Davidson and learn everything, and just
small details,” he said.

While nobody’s fate is certain after what could be the worst
season in franchise history, Musgrave seems to be on firm footing
with Frazier and the organization.

”We need some continuity,” Frazier said. ”We need to have a
strong offseason for us to take the next step. Part of that will be
Bill and (quarterbacks coach) Craig Johnson and the rest of our
offensive staff just working with our entire group throughout the
allotted time that we’ll have.”

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