EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Jeff George has been a name that has tantalized Minnesota Vikings fans since his 12-game run with the team in 1999.
George, the 12-year NFL quarterback and the first overall pick in the 1990 draft, was back on the field for Minnesota this week. But hold off on any thought the 45-year-old is challenging for Christian Ponder’s starting spot. George is actually around the team for organized team activities this week as a “guest coach.”
George has been helping out and spending time with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson and the team’s quarterbacks as he might want to pursue a career in coaching.
“It’s great to have Jeff around,” coach Leslie Frazier said after Wednesday’s OTAs. “He’s a guest coach this week for us, just here to observe and try to take a look at coaching to see if that’s something he’s interested in doing. We told our players, just to be able to pick his brain, our quarterbacks, and talk with him about some of the things he saw as a young quarterback and what he saw as a veteran and just his maturation over the course of his career.
“He was a very good player for a long time. He was a high draft pick and I think he can really help some of our players with some of his background and his knowledge, as well.”
George was spending time during drills walking and talking with Musgrave. George, known for a big arm but also a big attitude during his time in the NFL with five different teams, had one of the best seasons of his career with the Vikings.
He took over for Randall Cunningham midway through the 1999 season and led Minnesota to an 8-2 record in his starts during the regular season and threw for 2,816 yards, 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for a career-best 94.2 quarterback rating. He started two playoff games for the Vikings, who lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams in the second round.
George saw the field for parts of two more seasons with the Washington Redskins after leaving Minnesota, and then bounced around with several teams hoping to keep his career going but never again played a down. Now, he’s hoping to get back in the NFL in a different way.
The Vikings are hoping he can provide some knowledge to Ponder, who is entering a pivotal third season as the starter. But Ponder apparently hasn’t gotten much tutelage from George.
“We haven’t talked a whole lot, but he has come up to me a few times,” Ponder said after Wednesday’s practice. “He understands the game. Obviously, he was around for a while. He’s got a great knowledge of the game. He’s sat in the meetings and stuff with us; just another guy that you can bounce something off of him. He’s good to have around.”
George provides a different perspective from the Vikings’ coaches while in town.
“He and I have talked about what he’s seen from our guys and it’s been very favorable,” Frazier said. “He can always point out some things because of his experience. He worked for a number of coordinators during his playing career so I think having him around is a good thing.”
Voluntary to 100 percent: With defensive end Jared Allen coming back to town this week while rehabbing from shoulder and knee surgeries, Minnesota has had every player on the roster take part in some of the meetings or workouts during the voluntary OTAs.
Allen likely won’t return to practice until training camp, but he’s been back this week and has been taking part in meetings.
“It doesn’t guarantee you future success, but it does give you a chance to have success,” Frazier said. “I firmly believe to have the participation that we have had from our players this offseason, from Phase 1, to Phase 2 and now Phase 3, it gives you a chance to do what we talked about when we left after our playoff game against Green Bay, which was work to improve our football team. Guys are working their tails off trying to improve and I don’t think you can do that if you are split as a team having only a few guys here on this day and a few on that day. To have this type of participation at a voluntary camp really speaks well for our football team.”
Receiver Greg Jennings has returned to practice since suffering an ankle injury in last week’s OTAs. Jennings caught several passes during drills Wednesday and seemed as if he’s having no problems with the ankle. Receiver Chris Summers also was back after dealing with a hamstring injury last week.
The Vikings were missing cornerback Jacob Lacey, signed in the offseason from Detroit, who is out with a thumb injury, according to Frazier. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported later Wednesday that Lacey had undergone thumb surgery after an injury in Tuesday’s OTAs.
Linebacker Nathan Williams sat out with an ankle injury, but did watch the second half of practice. Center John Sullivan and linebacker Michael Mauti, both recovering from knee surgeries, worked on the side with head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman as they rehab.