Christian Ponder feels ‘a lot better than I expected to be’

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

“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

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.

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