Vikings notebook: Zimmer wants to see Ponder play with poise vs. Titans

Thursday in Tennessee might be Christian Ponder's last opportunity for a while to make an impression on Minnesota's coaching staff.

Vikings reserve quarterback Christian Ponder throws a pass during a recent training camp practice.  

Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. --€“ Christian Ponder has seemingly been an afterthought in the Minnesota Vikings' quarterback competition, the former starter left to pick up the few practice reps remaining after Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater have gotten their work in.

Ponder hasn't played in the past two preseason games after playing sparingly in the first game. He's received limited snaps in practice as Cassel and Bridgewater fought to be named the team's regular-season starter, which Cassel was officially named on Monday.

After starting 35 games the past three seasons as the team's 2011 first-round pick, Ponder is left to try and make the best of limited situations. Thursday in Tennessee for the fourth preseason game might be Ponder's last opportunity for a while to make an impression on Minnesota's coaching staff, and the rest of the NFL.

Bridgewater, the new first-round pick slated to be the team's future at the position, might start on Thursday, but Ponder will see his most extensive action. Vikings' coach Mike Zimmer wants to see Ponder transfer what he's done in practice.

"I'd like to see him do what he does out here in practice," Zimmer said. "He made like three great throws today, just had the poise. When he's getting rushed, have the poise and make the right throws. He's got all the talent in the world to do those things, so that's really what we want him to do. It's just really what he's doing in practice."

Zimmer has been coy about his plans for participation in Thursday's preseason finale, having not yet told the team his plans. Even at quarterback, Zimmer wouldn't say who was starting for certain.

"There's a good chance," Zimmer said of Bridgewater starting. "If he does start the game, it's good for us to see how he takes the beginning of the game."

With 15 cuts complete, the fight for roster spots on the final 53-man roster comes to a close on Thursday. The team released tight end Mike Higgins earlier in the day to get to Tuesday's limit.

While Minnesota will sit many key starters as every team does for the final preseason, the opportunity grows for those on the roster bubble. The Vikings will have to get from the current 75-man roster to 53 players by Saturday's 3 p.m. deadline.

"People think it's a throw-away game," offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. "It's probably the most important preseason game there is because these young guys get a chance to go play and get to show what they've been working on and every year it seems to me a guy in the fourth preseason game does something to distinguish himself and make a case for himself."

Making their case in the middle: One of the few starting spots where players are still trying to make their case is at middle linebacker, where Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole are trying to prove themselves to their new coaches.

Zimmer has said he's gained some clarity at the position after last week's game.

"Both did well in a lot of situations," Zimmer said. "I think we got sloppy at the end of the game a little bit with both of them, maybe fatigue or whatever it was. They'll get a lot of plays again this week."

Zimmer said he has an idea on who will start at middle linebacker in the regular-season opener on Sept. 7, but he wants to see Brinkley and Cole perform the rest of the week to solidify his thinking.

"We moved Jasper into the nickel some so we could see him in some of those situations the other night, just because they weren't getting enough plays and because Arizona (in the second preseason game) was so much substitution personnel," Zimmer said. "This week we may even stay a lot more base defense just so we can continue to evaluate them."

One issue at linebacker: One problem in trying to make decisions at linebacker has been the injuries that have hit the position.

Zimmer said rookie Anthony Barr suffered an ankle sprain and he will be held out of Thursday's game.

"He'll be fine," Zimmer said. "He's got a little ankle sprain."

Brandon Watts has missed time with a lower leg injury. Michael Mauti has also been held out of practice this week with a foot injury. Watts and Mauti will also miss Thursday's game.

"I don't think it's going to be a long-term deal, but we'll see," Zimmer said of Mauti.

Gerald Hodges returned to practice on Tuesday as he recovers from an ankle injury and he participated in some team drills. Zimmer said he didn't think Hodges would play Thursday.

"Hodges jumped in a little bit of the stuff and he actually did pretty good," Zimmer said.

Other injuries: Along with Hodges, rookie cornerback Jabari Price (arm) returned to practice Tuesday. Zimmer said Price was limited to individual drills on Tuesday and won't play Thursday.

Safety Jamarca Sanford (quadriceps), right tackle Phil Loadholt (ankle), receiver Rodney Smith (back/neck) and defensive tackle Linval Joseph were also held out of Tuesday's practice. Zimmer ruled Sanford, Loadholt and Joseph out for Thursday's game.

Zimmer said Smith is sore after he flipped over recovering an onside kick in last week's game. Smith did some running on the side and Zimmer wouldn't rule him out completely for Thursday.

"He's just really sore," Zimmer said. "I'm not a doctor but it was kind of a whiplash thing, he hit pretty hard . . . his back and neck where he landed."

Zimmer said Loadholt is "doing really good" and he's been pleased with Joseph's progress.

"He's actually running very, very well now in the rehab stuff," Zimmer said. "He'll be practicing Saturday, maybe."

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