Well, I thought things had begun to turn for quarterback Christian Ponder, at least according to the feedback I was receiving on Twitter (@mnbrianhall).
The outrage over Ponder’s struggles continue and the fans’ feelings were well known as he was booed each time he took the field last Sunday. But my Twitter followers had begun to turn their anger to the entire team and questioned the play of the offensive line and defense, particularly the secondary. Minnesota is 0-3 and every phase of the team is drawing scrutiny.
But for this week’s mailbag, the focus again comes back to Ponder, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and coach Leslie Frazier.
Here’s another round of our weekly Vikings’ mailbag:
Question: So what QB will the Vikings be striving for as a Top-3 first Round draft pick? — PIKE, Prior Lake
Answer: Some have already turned the page on Ponder and wondered where Minnesota might be going next. Well, I’m not sure if the Vikings will end up with a top-three pick, but as a service to our readers there are a few quarterbacks in college football to follow this season when you’re watching on Saturdays.
Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater is the consensus top quarterback expected to be available in the draft next summer. Many believe Bridgewater could even go No. 1 overall after all the early talk had centered on South Carolina defensive end Jadaveon Clowney. And the “Tank for Teddy” campaigns have already begun in some NFL cities. By most accounts, Bridgewater has everything you’d hope for in a franchise quarterback. He’s big, mobile, has a strong arm and is accurate.
Other names to watch include: UCLA’s Brett Hundley, Texas A&M Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Fresno State’s Derek Carr, Miami’s Stephen Morris, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, Georgia’s Aaron Murray and San Jose State’s David Fales, who was impressive in Minnesota last week against the Gophers (with Vikings general manager Rick Spielman in attendance).
Q: I have a lot of questions regarding the Browns game but the most glaring question I have is “on the fake field goal how could every Viking player and coaches not see the tight end all by himself? I’m sure other readers will ask questions regarding Ponder and the offensive line which I thought was really bad. Thank you — Alan Tiseth, Chatham, Ill.
A: Thanks for the consideration. Alan. Per usual, I did get mostly Ponder questions. But your question does bring up an interesting point in Sunday’s game. After a tumultuous week, Cleveland certainly looked like the more desperate team and coaching favored the Browns on Sunday.
Someone needs to see Cameron Jordan near the sideline, and at the very least call timeout. Minnesota also should have been on high alert after the fake punt on the previous drive.
Q: Someplace, I heard the figure 3 seconds that the OL should protect the QB. I don’t think the Viking OL did that consistently today. Am I right or wrong? — Norskie, Austin, MN
A: Typically, 2.5 seconds is the time teams look at for when quarterbacks should be getting rid of the ball. According to Pro Football Focus, Ponder had an average of 2.85 seconds to throw in Sunday’s game. He had 52 total dropbacks, 31 with more than 2.5 seconds. For the season, he’s averaging 2.9 seconds to throw, which actually ranks eighth in the league for most time, among quarterbacks who have started each game.
The offensive line struggles are an issue and maybe the most surprising aspect of this entire season because of the line’s success last season, especially in run blocking, and returning all five starters. The line needs to help Ponder, but the most glaring aspect of the line’s issues are in run blocking.
Q: Why don’t they switch quarterbacks, its already to late to make the playoffs. They need to get ready for next year. — Tom Zampedri, Ogden, Utah
A: An 0-3 start is tough, but Minnesota doesn’t want to believe its throwing in the towel and looking towards next season. It would be a tough sell for the veteran players on the roster, as well as a coaching staff that needs to prove it deserves to stay.
Changing quarterbacks doesn’t really come with an eye on next season either. Cassel was signed to a veteran backup, but he’s not really a long-term solution either. If (when?) the Vikings decide Ponder is no longer worthy of starting, the team will likely start over at quarterback with someone from the draft. Cassel might be a temporary stop-gap in that case.
Q: As a diehard Viking fan. I start to quiver very time ponder stands over center. Wondering what he will do goof up. His play is inconsistent and rash. The Vikings should be 3-0 instead of 0-3, if they had decent starting quarterback. Christian ponder is a draft bust. — Casey, Minneapolis
A: While I agree with many of Twitter followers and this season isn’t solely on Ponder’s shoulders, he isn’t providing many reasons for Minnesota to stick with him as the starter beyond this season. This was his third season to prove himself. General manager Rick Spielman likes to say that he waits for the end of the third year to evaluate draft picks. Right now, no doubt, Ponder is looking like a first-round miss.
Q: Will we even win 5 games this year? Then what? New regime? — Purpleking, Saint Paul
A: Five wins might not be enough to save coach Leslie Frazier and his staff. Entering the season I thought Minnesota would be in a similar position to last year hanging on to the edge of playoff contention. Now, after an 0-3 start, five wins might be tough.
While the opening few weeks have been awkward from a travel standpoint, the toughest part of the Vikings schedule is still ahead with two games against Green Bay, and one against Seattle, Chicago, Baltimore and Cincinnati. Can the Vikings go 5-8 the rest of the way? Sure. They still have a quality roster and proved in last year’s late-season push things can get better. But the wins need to start coming quickly.
Q: Could the problem be that every 1st down is a pass and every 2nd down is a Peterson run?????? Let’s take a long hard look at the offensive coordinator!!!AP didn’t stand much of a chance when the Browns new he would run on 2nd down. Come on!!! — Lorie, Iowa
A: Musgrave does deserve to be under fire a bit, in my opinion. There have been games in the past two years, where he deserves credit for the game plan. Sunday, the Vikings’ offense became easy to telegraph. He made a great call on Ponder’s first touchdown run, an designed quarterback draw into a wide-open middle of the field. Yet, as the mailer points out, there was a pattern developing Sunday.
Minnesota would pass on first down and after an incompletion, come right back with a Peterson run up the middle on second down. At one point in the second half, five out of six times the set of downs started with a Ponder pass on first down and followed with a Peterson run, and each led to a third-and-long situation.
Q: What can be done to increase Christian’s field of view so that he can option other open receivers rather than if the call is a pass to say Jennings, he could see and hit another open receiver rather than FORCE the pass to Jennings when he’s got multiple coverage defenders hanging on him, come heck or high water? It seems to be single focus rather than the whole field and another open man! — M. Christian, Bloomington, MN
A: Ponder might be who he is at this point in his career. He’s started 29 games in his career. The one area maybe the Vikings were hoping Ponder would continue to progress is reading defenses and going through his reads. In the pocket, he should be able to see, and use, the whole field. Out of the pocket, the field will shrink. Of course, Ponder seems more comfortable rolling to his right than standing strong in the pocket.
He said he’s working on staying in the pocket and reading the field. He’ll need to show more progress in that regard, no matter the success of the offensive line.
Q: Why not if a switch is made at quarterback, then really make a switch and put in Mcleod Bethel? Keep Cassel as back up and lets see how if maybe the gunner style of Mcleod will push us into several victories. — Jon, Sheldon IL
A: I am curious to see what potential lies in third-stringer McLeod Bethel-Thompson. He has a strong arm and seems confident in his ability. I’m not sure if he is a potential starter someday, or if he is a project that might spend his career as a backup. But I am interested to know.
The coaches know what they have in Bethel-Thompson though and have shown no signs of being ready to let him play. He’s been a weekly inactive as the third quarterback. In practices and preseason games, we’ve seen the arm that can excite, but also the mistakes that relegate him to the third spot on the depth chart. If the Vikings decide Ponder isn’t a starter next season, it will be interesting to see what they do with Bethel-Thompson.
Q: why was the punt that was fumbled and then recoverer and then fumbled again a “muff” and not able to be advanced by the Vikings? — pat grondin, los angeles
A: Within the rules, the play was properly officiated. Officials ruled he “muffed” the punt and did not fumble the ball. There is a difference, according to league rules. The punting team can recover a muff but can’t advance the ball. A fumble, if the punt returner would have established control and then fumble, could have been returned for a touchdown.
Officials deemed that the punt returner “muffed” the punt due to his own mistakes and did not fumble the ball. So, once officials determined it was a muff, the Vikings had no chance to advance, per rules.
Q: Which is the worst: the Viking offensive line, the secondary or the coaching staff?– Len Barenoch, Twin Lakes, MN
A: Because Minnesota is currently seventh in the league in scoring, I’ll say the biggest issue to date is the defense and the secondary in particular. Especially if the current injuries turn into an issue with cornerback Chris Cook out with a groin strain, safety Jamarca Sanford dealing with a hamstring injury and backup cornerback A.J. Jefferson dealing with an ankle injury.
Marcus Sherels was pressed into action and did play well Sunday. But Cleveland did most of its damage offensively with the passing game. Coaching might be an issue and the offensive line does need to improve, but the defensive mistakes have been the most glaring so far for Minnesota.
Q: are they shopping Toby Gerhart around the league — john Arnold, north sioux city sd
A: I don’t believe the Vikings are actively shopping Gerhart around the league. There was a report last week, before the Indianapolis Colts traded for Trent Richardson, that Indianapolis had contacted Minnesota about Gerhart. I’d love to be the fly on the wall to hear what the offers were. The Vikings enjoy having a quality backup like Gerhart and would still use a run-first offensive if starter Adrian Peterson went down.
Yet, reality is Gerhart is a former second-round pick who has 241 career carries and is in the last year of his rookie contract. If the season continued to slip away and offers were there for Gerhart, Minnesota would have to consider a trade. The Vikings are likely to lose him in the offseason and if playoffs aren’t a possibility, then something for Gerhart is better than nothing.
Q: Why don’t we bring back Antone Winfield to help out in the secondary, give some stability, direction back there? I would suggest a player coach designation — dudley Johnson, columbia falls montana
A: The Winfield speculation is creeping up again this week. Minnesota has issues in the secondary with injuries to Cook, Sanford and Jefferson. General manager Rick Spielman hinted that he’s keeping his eye open for possible help in the secondary. And then an ESPN report on Twitter Wednesday night said Winfield had been working out and is mulling a return to the NFL.
I have to believe Winfield will have more options than just the Vikings. And if he’s looking to return for one more year, you’d have to believe he’d be looking for the best chance to play in the playoffs and maybe win a Super Bowl, something Winfield has never done. But money might talk, too, and Minnesota could use its one-time defensive leader. Spielman wouldn’t confirm whether he’s talked with Winfield or his agent, but I believe they should have at least made the call.
Q: With so much talent on the team yet still not being quite “pulled together” – isn’t it time to start talking about Coach Frazier? He’s got to be the least inspiring coach in the league – seriously. It seems like some good, smart coaching could really turn this thing around. Am I wrong? — Michelle, Washington DC
A: Frazier is liked and respected by his players. Whether he’s inspiring is different, but I think he knows how to rally his team. Sunday’s game, where Minnesota looked ill-prepared for the Browns is troubling. But I stand by my belief of Frazier.
I think Frazier has the chance to be a very good NFL head coach, handling the ups and downs of a season and the issues that pop up in locker rooms and off the field. However, I do believe Frazier might be the type of head coach that is a better manager and needs quality coordinators to really bring the best out in him. With quality coordinators, I think Frazier could be successful. Unfortunately, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is creating heat on himself and defensive coordinator Alan Williams might still be learning on the job.
Thank you for your submissions. We’ve received very good response for our weekly mailbags and it’s because of you. Sorry we’re not able to answer each question individually. I believe this covers many of the hot topics. I hope we continue to hear from you in the future. Be sure to check FOXSportsNorth.com for upcoming mailbags.