Brian Hall’s Sept. 5 Vikings mailbag

The Minnesota Vikings begin the regular season Sunday on the road against the Detroit Lions, which means roster questions have taken a backseat to the players that made the roster and the games that will matter.
As a reminder, we’ll be running a weekly Vikings’ mailbag during the season to answer your questions.
In advance of the first game, here is what’s on your mind:
Question: Why Ponder? The only reason the Vikes won games last year was due to AP , Ponder can’t throw a pass with any accuracy, you can tell he gets scared when he gets rushed. If the Vikes have any chance of winning he has to go or I will bet anyone right now that if they keep pushing AP to do all the scoring AP will get hurt.
— JJ, Northern MN.
Will Christian Ponder be better this year than last year?
— Jo Graham, Waverly, MN.
Answer: What do you know, there are questions regarding starting quarterback Christian Ponder. Kidding aside, Ponder still is one of the biggest unknowns on the Vikings heading into his third season in the NFL. Perhaps the best part of the regular season finally upon us is the questions will be answered on the field. Ponder will either sink or swim this season. If he proves capable of leading Minnesota back to the playoffs, Ponder will have proven the team’s belief he can be a franchise quarterback. If not, then the team will likely move on from Ponder as the starter.
Ponder has everything in place this season to be better than last and, most importantly, show consistency. Ponder’s had good games, such as his last regular-season game at home against the Green Bay Packers. And he’s also had his share of clunkers. He needs to eliminate, or at least lessen, the poor performances. Ponder has the best set of receivers he’s had in his time in the NFL, with a proven vet like Greg Jennings to go with a healthy Jerome Simpson, young receivers Jarius Wright and Cordarrelle Patterson, a Pro Bowl MVP in tight end Kyle Rudolph, the return of all five offensive line starters and an MVP in the backfield.
With running back Adrian Peterson behind him, Ponder should have taken advantage of more defenses than he has in his career. If Ponder can’t succeed with the supporting cast he’s been given, the Vikings will have all the answers they seek on whether he’s a long-term starter.
Q: what is the deal with Ballard I hear nothing
— lorn, Viborg, S.D.
A: Defensive tackle Christian Ballard’s absence is a curious case. One moment he was the second-string defensive tackle behind Kevin Williams, who has an expiring contract. The next, the team announced he had left for personal reasons and he hasn’t returned.
Coach Leslie Frazier has remained tight-lipped about the situation and what is keeping Ballard away. In past cases, Frazier would often open up about what is keeping a player out and personal matters usually clear up and a player returns. There’s no sign that Ballard will return or the team expects him to return.
As of Wednesday, it’s clear the Vikings are moving on with the expectation he won’t rejoin the team and are forced to view the situation as such. Frazier said he hadn’t talked to Ballard in a week and the team has a roster exemption, so they don’t need to make any decisions on the third-year defensive tackle.
Q: How often in the game will they try to incoperate Patterson into the offence esp with his good talent? I have faith in Ponder and hope this upgrades in the reciving corps can contibute big so ALL DAY gets to 2500 yards! Also side note when is the return for Williams and how is his knee after that LOW BLOW they call “LEGAL” and his return time??
— AJ P, Sioux Falls, S.D.
A: Someone with “faith” in Ponder. Refreshing. Patterson is talented, but will be brought along slowly. He will be the top kickoff returner to start the team and should make an immediate impact there. The Vikings will pick their spots with him on offense and probably try to manufacture some ways to get the ball in his hands.
But Minnesota is comfortable with Jennings and Simpson as the starters and Wright as the third receiver. I believe Patterson’s talent will eventually override any concerns about him being raw and not a natural route-runner. He has the ability to just do so many things and impact the game. I could see him eventually having more of a role than Simpson later on this year.
Williams appears doubtful to return this week, but the fact the Vikings continue to hold out hope for this week could mean he’s ready to play in Week 2. But we really have no idea how close Williams is to returning until he at least returns to practice in some aspect. He hasn’t practiced at all since the knee injury.
Q: Will our Vikings be 100% ready too play the Lions week 1 and then the Bears in week 2 ?    I am trying too say is this the game against either the Bills or 49’s  that are q.b.’s did not have a enough time too get the pass off !!    The Vikings o-line just could protect Ponder or Cassel for that matter !!   So am I worried about the o-line then the answer is a definite yes !!
— THORSHAMMER64, Fredericksburg, Va.
A: The offensive line definitely struggled in the preseason, which should be concerning because the team is returning all five starters from last year. They offensive line shouldn’t be a concern with John Sullivan, Charlie Johnson, Brandon Fusco, Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt, but the preseason play has left many to wonder about the group, particularly against Buffalo’s blitz-heavy scheme. Ponder and Matt Cassel looked rushed on nearly every throw against the other first-team defense.
The last thing the Vikings likely want to be worrying about offensively is the offensive line. Kalil made the Pro Bowl as a rookie. Sullivan has developed into one of the league’s best centers and Loadholt was a priority re-signing in the offseason. The team still has high hopes for Fusco and Johnson too. I believe the line will eventually find its way and be the solid group the team expects, and needs. The line will need to be ready for the first game, drawing Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and the Detroit defensive line.
Q: with winfield bing released from the seahawks  what chance is there that the vikings will resign him?
— Michael Kray, Staples, MN.
A: A return to Minnesota for the 14-year veteran was the first thing I thought of when I heard Winfield had been released. His retirement, might, complicate matters. If Winfield has decided he’s done — and he acknowledged last year that retirement was around the corner — then any reunion could be far-fetched. Winfield showed last year he can still play and he was cut by Seattle, who has perhaps the best set of cornerbacks in the league.
Frazier kept open the possibility of a return this week and teammate Jamarca Sanford said he’d call and try to talk Winfield out of retirement. I’m sure Winfield would have options if he chose to return. One possibility, Winfield would have had to have his contract guaranteed if he was on the Week 1 roster. Maybe interest from Winfield or teams heats up next week.
Q: what the chances that the vikes will trade toby to a team that lost a starting running back.  will they get a number 1 for him? Thanks 
— mike campanella, Superior, WI.
A: There is virtually no chance the Vikings will trade Gerhart. The team enjoys the security Gerhart provides behind Peterson. He’s proven capable of filling in for Peterson, if needed, in the past. Even without Peterson, Minnesota would likely stick to its run-first philosophy and Gerhart gives them a competent backup. And Gerhart isn’t the type to rock the boat and cause a disruption if he isn’t playing much.
Gerhart is entering his final season and likely his last with the Vikings. Minnesota wouldn’t get a first-round pick for Gerhart with many teams employing a committee at running back. The best the Vikings could probably get for Gerhart is maybe a third-rounder, which is another reason by Minnesota isn’t interested in moving him.
Q: Did Minnesota offer Cris Carter’s son a Contract??  If not – why??
— Lora, West Virginia
A: The Vikings had Duron Carter, Cris’ son, in for its rookie minicamp on a tryout basis and didn’t sign him to a contract. Duron also had a tryout with the New Orleans Saints, but never ended up signing an NFL contract. He ended up signing with the Montreal Alouttes in the Canadian Football League and recently played his first pro game with Montreal.
Q: Who are we kidding – what do they see in Ponder? Both our back-ups have way more skills – and can see down field – and sell the play action – and why don’t we have a back up running back similar to AP?
— Bill, Sioux Falls
A: We’ve discussed Ponder plenty, so we’ll focus on the second part of the question. The easy answer is it’s running backs like Adrian Peterson don’t come around very often. But trying to find a back with some similar skills could be where Minnesota goes in the offseason with the expectation Gerhart doesn’t return.
Gerhart has succeeded, though he doesn’t have the game-breaking ability of Peterson. Joe Banyard actually showed some elusiveness and big-play potential in the preseason, but he was released this week from the practice squad.
While the Vikings don’t have a speed back like Peterson as a backup, their offense doesn’t change much schematically when Peterson is out. Gerhart can’t get to the outside like Peterson, but he’s proven effective running inside and powering for yards.
Q: What’s the story with CB Felder.  If we need him in a few weeks can we just pull him from IR and put on team?  Thanks.
— James Kallestad
A: Felder said Thursday he continues to learn more about his ankle injury and described it as a high ankle sprain. He was in the locker room and wasn’t limping. He’s clearly liked and gets along with his teammates and wants to be with Minnesota.
But Felder is on injured reserve and he wasn’t given the designation to return by the team, so he’s out for the year. He can’t be brought back by the team. Felder’s only option to play this year would be to reach an injury settlement with the Vikings, get healthy and sign elsewhere. 
Q: Patterson looked pretty good in the preseason. Looks like he might fill most (or all) of Harvin’s duties. Does he have the ability to be a deep threat (like Moss was)? Certainly better than Harvin was, right?
— Jeff, Blaine
A: Patterson will definitely fill Harvin’s role as the kickoff returner and might actually have the talent to replace Harvin there, even though Harvin has been one of the league’s best kickoff returners in his career. Patterson doesn’t have the sudden quickness of Harvin, but has the ability to make people miss and does have long speed.
Offensively, his role is still evolving. Count me as one that believes Harvin wasn’t used enough down the field, but Patterson has field-stretching speed and the size to win contests against corners. Talent and size-wise Patterson is everything you’d want in a downfield, true No. 1 receiver. He is still working on his route-running, maybe the only piece left for Patterson to make a bigger impact. But Patterson has the potential to replace Harvin and be a better deep threat than Harvin ever was.
Q: brian do you think mbt is ready to play, if both q’s were hurt would he be put in the game or would webb be next?
— mike, duluth
A: McLeod Bethel-Thompson is still developing but he might not be ready to contribute this year. He has the strongest arm on the team and is an intriguing prospect, but he is still growing as an NFL quarterback. He makes throws during practice that can amaze, but will also make the occasional play that leaves you understanding why he is still the third quarterback on the roster. But he also has shown enough that the Vikings see the potential in spending time to develop him.
If Ponder and Cassel were both hurt in a game this season, it would come down to which players are active for the game. The league eliminated its third quarterback rule two years ago in lieu of having 46 players active on game days now. If Bethel-Thompson is inactive and Ponder and Cassel were both hurt, Minnesota would have to find another quarterback, maybe Webb if he was active. If Bethel-Thompson is active, my guess is he’d be the replacement.
Thank you for your submissions.  Hope to hear more from everyone in the future. Let us know if you like this feature and be sure to check for upcoming mailbags.

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