Ponder, Cassel not shaken by Vikings signing Freeman

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — One of the first orders of business for Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier on Monday morning was a meeting with his team as it returned from the bye week facing an unknown situation at quarterback.

If Frazier doesn’t have a full-blown quarterback controversy on his hands, he at least has a delicate scenario after Minnesota agreed to terms with Josh Freeman late Sunday night. Some of the Vikings awoke Monday to the news.

Frazier addressed his team, particularly the three quarterbacks on the roster previously, and didn’t believe there were any issues with a split locker room, with Freeman giving Minnesota three quarterbacks who have started games this season and were full-time starters at the beginning of last year.

“Our guys want us to do whatever it takes to win, whatever it takes to help us improve,” Frazier said. “They understand the business we’re in, and we’re trying to do something that’s going to help us to win. So it should help our chemistry.”

Frazier still passed the message of the signing on to his team Monday, adding what the Vikings feel is a promising player and more competition at quarterback in Freeman, who started the first three games this season but was released last week by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Freeman won’t be rushed into a start this week when Minnesota returns from the bye to host the Carolina Panthers. Christian Ponder, who returned to practice Monday with his fractured rib, and Matt Cassel, who sparked the Vikings to their first win two weeks ago, will start Sunday, with Frazier maintain the decisions still rests partly on whether Ponder is healthy enough to play.

But Freeman’s addition does have an effect on subsequent weeks.

Minnesota has remained steadfast in its belief of Ponder, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2011, as the team’s starter. The dedication has apparently waned enough for the Vikings to take a chance on Freeman, who started 50 of the past 51 games for Tampa Bay before being deactivated last week in a falling out between team and quarterback.

“I think Christian still has a bright future here with our football team,” Frazier said. “It may not look like that on the surface, but Christian’s a professional. He’s going to work as hard as he can every day to prepare, get back on the field and help our team win. He’s a pro.”

Ponder said he isn’t sure what the Freeman signing means for the rest of his time in Minnesota. He said his confidence isn’t shaken by the move.

“No, it doesn’t,” Ponder said. “Again, it wasn’t my decision and it’s I guess what’s best for the team. In my eyes, I’m getting prepared to play. As long as I play well, then I’m the one on the field.”

Frazier made sure to bring his quarterbacks together Monday and explain the rationale behind the move though. Frazier said Freeman will be given a chance to win the starting job once he is acclimated to the team.

“I sat down with both of them this morning and talked to them about the signing, what the implications were,” Frazier said. “I think we’re all on the same page, how it affects them and how it affects our team.”

But how did Ponder and Cassel take the talk?

“It’s not a tough conversation,” Cassel said. “The one thing you can expect in the NFL is expect the unexpected. Because every week it changes and you never know what’s going to happen. I’ve learned that over time. This is my ninth year, so it’s not anything that’s overwhelming or surprising. It’s one of those things that, it’s the NFL. So for me, my approach doesn’t change. It’s continue to go out, work hard and do what I can to be accountable to my teammates and see what happens.”

Cassel was one of the players that didn’t learn of the signing until Monday morning. After leading the team to victory last week, and seemingly rallying his teammates, Cassel could be returning to the backup role.

But Cassel has learned to deal with such situations throughout his career. He lost his starting job in Kansas City last season before being released in the offseason.

“I don’t look at it as a slight to myself,” Cassel said. “As long as I continue to go out and perform and do what I need to do, then everything takes care of itself. You can control what you can control.”

Ponder believes he still has control over whether he is the starter after talking with Frazier.

“He said he has full confidence in me and everything,” Ponder said of talking with Frazier. “I understand his explanation on things. He told me just to continue to focus on getting healthy.”

Ponder said he takes Frazier at his word and is only focused on getting healthy, and was pleased with his return to practice Monday.

“It felt good, very little pain, if any,” Ponder said. “I felt like I threw the ball pretty well, so it’s a good start back. We threw over the bye week and things kept getting better and better every day. I’m feeling pretty good right now.”

Ponder will have a chance to start Sunday. The future is a different story.

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