EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Christian Ponder didn’t see himself making it back from a left shoulder dislocation in time to play this week, after dealing with pain and stiffness over the weekend.
The past few days have changed Ponder’s outlook. He’s returned to practice, said he’s feeling better and expects to play on Sunday with the Minnesota Vikings at Seattle.
"Yeah, that's the expectation and honestly it's a lot better than I expected to be all week,” Ponder said Thursday. “I was a little pessimistic about what was going to happen over the weekend. I was very uncomfortable. I woke up Monday and Tuesday and I kept feeling better and better. Our training staff has done such a great job of getting me to feel better. So I threw it around a lot more than I expected to yesterday. Practiced pretty the whole practice. And I thought it went well. And each day it's going to keep getting better.'”
Whether Ponder will start for Minnesota on Sunday is up to coach Leslie Frazier and the team’s medical staff, and no decision has yet been announced. But all signs point to Ponder being ready to make his fourth straight start after he practiced again Thursday and was the first quarterback through the rotation in the portion of practice open to the media.
“Yeah, just got to keep going day to day, see how he is tomorrow, see if he has any soreness,” Frazier said. “If he does, where is it? Is there a pain-tolerance issue? So we’re going to see how he does tomorrow.”
Frazier also wouldn’t divulge if Matt Cassel or Josh Freeman would be the backup to Ponder. With Minnesota’s constant questions at the quarterback position, Ponder feels that going out and playing through the pain -- which is to his non-throwing shoulder -- can rally support in his favor even more after having his best game of the season last Thursday in leading the Vikings to two second-half touchdown drives and a come-from-behind win.
“It’s a great opportunity for that and to show guys you can play with injury, and everybody has the quarterback as the softest position in the room,” Ponder said. “So it’s an opportunity to get out there and show a little toughness.’’
Ponder helped Minnesota rally last week, going 17-of-21 passing for 174 yards in the game, and demonstrated his competitiveness while diving for the end zone on a third-quarter scramble. Ponder, who ended up a yard short of a touchdown, was hit in the air by Washington’s DeAngelo Hall and dislocated his shoulder.
Ponder said he will wear a harness in the game to help keep the shoulder in place, and isn’t concerned about taking another hit.
“I don't know how it's going to feel,” Ponder said. “Obviously, I'm going to get hit at some point. Hopefully not, but we'll see how it ends up feeling. But I'm sure it will it be a little painful and, I don't know, hopefully the Seahawks don't have a target on it.”
Ponder said it won’t change the way he plays but he does know he needs to protect himself. Injuries have been an issue for Ponder in his short career. He dealt with concussion and knee injuries as a rookie, missed the playoffs last season with a deep triceps bruise and had his regular-season starts streak snapped at 29 earlier this season with a fractured rib.
“I think I need to do a better of job of protecting myself when I run,” Ponder said. “But it's a big part of my game. I'm not going to try hinder myself from that.'”
Minnesota is also seeing its offense evolve somewhat with Ponder available and playing out of the shotgun. Ponder has been particularly effective playing from the shotgun formation or in hurry-up situations in his career.
“I think it helps a lot of quarterbacks in today’s day and age,” offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “Defenses are so complex that they can get back there, take a mental picture of it before the ball is snapped to them or get them back to launching point sooner than they could travel on their own two feet. It definitely helps.”
Frazier said one reason Ponder excels in shotgun formations is he often was in the shotgun at Florida State. But Frazier wants to make sure the focus isn’t taken away from Adrian Peterson and what the MVP running back does well.
To that point, the Vikings are trying to utilize more running plays out of the shotgun.
“We’re heading in that direction,” Frazier said. “We had some shotgun runs the last two weeks and we haven’t always been a shotgun run team because we have a running back who is very good when you put him directly behind the center. But you want to play to his strengths as well. We’ll do some things that will help us, but I don’t think we’ll ever be exclusively an offset running-back team.”
Peterson knows the offense needs Ponder at his best, too.
“His play is very key to our offense and being balanced, so we’re going to need him to continue to perform well,” Peterson said. “So his preparation, I’m sure that’s where he’s looking at this point, coming in and making sure he’s crossing his Ts and dotting his Is and he’s prepared to go out there and play his role. We’ve all got a role to play in. We hold each other accountable, so hopefully we can get him playing the way he played last week.”
Hostile environment in Seattle: The Seahawks are known for having a loud home crowd at CenturyLink Field and tout the fans as the “12th man.”
The Vikings, who experienced the atmosphere firsthand in a 30-20 loss at Seattle last year, are ready for this week.
“It makes it fun,” Jared Allen said. “No offense to Jacksonville or any team like that, but you go down there and the crowd is empty, feels like fans are 100 yards away. And you know, you go to Seattle and it’s loud. Trash talking, it’s the way it’s supposed to be. Those environments are fun to play in, especially if you can get a win there, it makes it that much sweeter. They talk about tough environments to play in, it’s just loud. It feels like fans are going to come onto the field and attack you. … People talk about, ‘Oh, it’s a crazy environment,’ but it’s just loud. It’s what fans are supposed to do. Makes it fun.”
Simpson status still undecided: Frazier said he still hasn’t decided if receiver Jerome Simpson, who was arrested on Saturday and charged with two counts of DWI, would start for Minnesota. Frazier said Simpson, who leads the team with 491 receiving yards and is second with 33 catches, would probably play.
As part of the discipline for Simpson, he could lose his starting assignment to rookie Cordarrelle Patterson.
“Made a decision, but Seattle doesn’t care,” Frazier said. “Seattle cares about stopping Adrian Peterson. They don’t care who we start at receiver or quarterback or offensive tackle, they could care less. So, no reason to name it. That’s a concern about stopping Adrian only. So that’s it.”
More Harvin reaction: There are many familiar faces for the Vikings in Seattle, including Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, linebacker Heath Farwell, receiver Sidney Rice and even coach Pete Carroll, who was a Minnesota assistant from 1985-89.
But no one is getting more attention this week than receiver Percy Harvin, who was traded to Seattle in the offseason after a spectacular but tumultuous four seasons with the Vikings. Harvin is expected to make his season debut on Sunday against Minnesota.
“I sure hope he isn’t (playing),” Allen said. “Percy is good enough, let alone coming back with fresh legs and pissed off at us.”
Allen knows stopping Harvin will be a tough task.
“Percy is the type of guy you’ve got to stop him before he starts,” Allen said. “You can’t let him get going. You can’t let him get in the open field. That’s where he’s dangerous, those second-effort plays. We obviously got to see firsthand what he can do. He’s a tough kid. If he’s in there, we’re going to have to go hit him.”
Peterson said Sunday’s game will feel like a reunion. Peterson, who said Harvin was the best player he’s played with, was among the surprised Vikings when Harvin was traded and never thought Minnesota would trade the talented receiver.
“I don’t really know the depth of the situation,” Peterson said. “Obviously, we wanted him here and he felt he wanted to go somewhere else. So he’s somewhere where he’s happy and he’s able to play the game he loves and we’re looking forward. This is a business and it happens.”
Frazier does know the back story of why things didn’t work out with Harvin and the Vikings, but didn’t want to get into details.
“A lot of reasons, a lot of reasons,” Frazier said. “A lot of details in that story.”
Vikings getting healthier after break: Ponder was listed as limited for the second straight day of practice, but Minnesota is getting much healthier after not being able to suit up a full roster for last week's game against Washington. Playing last Thursday allowed for three extra days of rest for the Vikings.
Defensive tackle Fred Evans (knee) returned to practice for the first time since Oct. 31 and was limited. Only tight end Kyle Rudolph, out four to six weeks with a broken foot, missed practice on Thursday. Running back Matt Asiata (shoulder), tight end Rhett Ellison (ankle), defensive tackle Letroy Guion (chest), guard Charlie Johnson (elbow/toe) and receiver Greg Jennings (achilles) were limited.
Jennings appeared on the injury report for the first time. Peterson didn't practice Thursday and was listed with a groin injury, but Frazier said it was just a day of rest for Peterson and he'll be ready to play on Sunday.
Fullback Jerome Felton (back) and linebacker Erin Henderson (illness) returned to practice fully. Cornerback Chris Cook (hip), safety Jamarca Sanford (groin) and right tackle Phil Loadholt (concussion) practiced in full for the second straight day.