EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Leslie Frazier said the Minnesota Vikings need some success in the “worst way” and he’s making sure he’s taking all measures to have a leg up on the Dallas Cowboys this week.
Minnesota returned to practice Wednesday and Frazier said he knows who will start at quarterback, but he wasn’t ready to announce this week’s starter yet. On Monday, Frazier said the decision will come down to Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman and that Matt Cassel, who led the team to its only win this season, isn’t in the mix to start this week.
“I have an idea of what direction we’re going to go and how we’re going to practice, but I’m not in the frame of mind where I want to divulge that at this point,” Frazier said Wednesday. “Our team knows and I’m sure it will get out there at some point. I don’t want to publicly talk about who’s our starting quarterback.”
Frazier said he will make the announcement later in the week, but is keeping the secret for now as an advantage over Dallas, which hosts the 1-6 Vikings on Sunday. While the starting quarterback has been a weekly topic and changed each of the past three weeks, Frazier didn’t try to withhold the announcement in previous weeks.
This week he’s hoping it helps against the NFC East-leading Cowboys (4-4).
“I hope it makes a difference,” Frazier said. “I don’t know if it will. Everybody comes in saying we’ve got to stop No. 28 (Adrian Peterson), so it doesn’t always make a difference. But it’s not necessary to have to divulge anything on Wednesday.”
Frazier, who said he didn’t feel burned by announcing the decision early the past few weeks, said the decision has already been made for this week though. He said he’s told the team of his decision. One player hinted at the choice after practice and couldn’t help but let it slip … maybe.
After Wednesday’s practice, receiver Jerome Simpson told the St. Paul Pioneer Press: “I think we’re going with Ponder. I feel confident in him. We just got to protect for him and make the catches.”
Ponder, too, decided to keep it a secret, leaving the official announcement for Frazier. Some continuity and avoiding the weekly questions would be a welcome change for Minnesota.
“I think I’m selfish in that fact and I want to be the guy that’s consistently out there,” Ponder said. “But I don’t know, I think guys are handling it pretty well. Everyone’s adjusting.”
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Dallas is preparing for Minnesota’s system and Peterson, the MVP running back, and will be ready to adjust to whoever starts at quarterback.
“You have to, first and foremost, prepare for the system and the other people who play in the system,” Garrett said. “Certainly Adrian Peterson is a guy who will be in the ballgame, regardless of who the quarterback is. And you have a lot of weapons outside, weapons at the tight end position, so you address that, what they’re trying to do with each of those guys and then you try your best to maybe evaluate the differences in the system with Ponder playing or Freeman playing, and try to make your best estimation.”
Ponder started last week’s loss to the Green Bay Packers, finishing 14-of-21 passing for 145 yards. Ponder got the chance to start because Freeman suffered a concussion the previous game, his first appearance since signing with Minnesota earlier this month.
“I felt like the game was even slower than it was before,” Ponder said of returning to the starting lineup after sitting out three games. “Just felt like I was seeing things pretty well, seeing coverages, seeing safety rotations and everything. I felt I could see things pretty well, see the field.”
Starting just two weeks after signing, Freeman was 20-of-53 passing for 190 yards and an interception in a loss two weeks ago at New York.
Freeman is healthy and returned to practice last Friday. But two days of missed practices put Freeman too far behind, especially since he’s still learning the offense. Freeman was unable to participate in film or meeting room work, either, while dealing with the concussion.
“It definitely makes a difference when you come in as late as he did and then to have to miss the amount of time he missed last week as you’re trying to develop him and help him learn the offense,” Frazier said. “It definitely sets him back a little bit. But you really can’t do anything about that. We’re working as hard as we can this week to get him back up to speed and see where he is from a physical and mental standpoint.”
Freeman’s health shouldn’t be a factor in the decision this week. Ponder took the first repetitions through quarterback drills during the portion of Wednesday’s practice open to the media, followed by Cassel and then Freeman.
Frazier said the team is comfortable with Freeman’s progress in the offense. But he knows the team needs continuity at the position and said getting a win at Dallas is the most important factor in choosing a quarterback this week.
“Yeah, I want to concentrate on this Dallas game and have success,” Frazier said. “We need to have success in the worst way and we need our quarterback to play well for us and so the concentration is more about this Dallas Cowboys game.”