Freeman returns to practice, Ponder still to start

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Josh Freeman returned to practice for the Minnesota Vikings Friday after clearing concussion testing, but Christian Ponder is slated to start on Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers.

Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier didn’t believe Freeman, who did limited work in Friday’s practice, was ready to play Sunday after missing two days. Freeman already was behind after being acquired little more than two weeks ago and he will be inactive. Ponder will start Sunday with Matt Cassel as the backup.

Ponder returns to the starting role because Freeman was concussed during Monday night’s game at New York, when he went 20 of 53 for 190 yards and an interception. Freeman said he didn’t show any symptoms of a concussion until he got off the team plane back in Minnesota.

“There were a couple times, but I can’t remember anything in particular,” Freeman said. “Going back and watching the tape, you can see a couple times it might’ve happened. But I really didn’t start feeling the symptoms until we got off the plane the next morning.”

Frazier said Freeman would start again this week when he met with the media on Tuesday, but then Freeman came in and said he wasn’t feeling well. He was determined to have a concussion and had to go through NFL testing procedures this week.

Freeman said he had a concussion when he played in college at Kansas State, but it’s the first of his NFL career.

“I just learned this talking to the doctors, but often times with concussions they don’t really start showing noticeable symptoms until hours later,” Freeman said. “That was the case on Monday night and really Tuesday morning is when I got the full onslaught of symptoms.

“In the game, when you’re focused and locked in on your job, often times the man concussed is the last to really truly notice anything is off. It’s something that is definitely going to heighten my awareness toward it. All around the league, guys are tuned in on the sideline. Moving forward, it will definitely be something to be more aware of.”

The Vikings haven’t committed to a starter beyond this week. Ponder returns to the starting role he had for 29 straight regular-season games before suffering a broken rib and losing his job to Matt Cassel and eventually Freeman.

Ponder said he’s more relaxed now and is looking at Sunday’s start as a chance to regain his starting spot permanently.

“It’s an opportunity to get back in the saddle and be more vocal and take a hold of this position because I don’t want to give it back,” Ponder said.

Freeman was expected to be the starter the rest of the season, signing with the Vikings after being released by Tampa Bay to re-establish his career as well as possibly solve Minnesota’s quarterback woes. He said he isn’t sure what will happen after Sunday’s game, though he believes he will be ready to practice in full.

“I mean the entire organization’s focus is on Sunday night,” Freeman said. “It’s going up against the Packers and finding a way to get a win. My role for the game, I’ve got to any way I can help Christian out there. He had an excellent week of practice. He’s dropping dimes left and right. I know everybody is excited about moving forward.”

Freeman had inaccuracy issues in Monday’s game, particularly in the fourth quarter, when he threw 19 incompletions in 30 pass attempts. But he said the issues weren’t a result of the concussion. Frazier said Freeman believes the concussion happened sometime during the third quarter. Freeman also said the inaccuracy wasn’t strictly mechanical.

“I think with any quarterback there’s a lot of times where read one, read two, step out of the pocket, moving, there’s just that comfort level when you know where you’re going with the ball and you’re comfortable stepping up in the pocket and getting your feet set,” Freeman said.

“Then accuracy goes way up. There were obviously some shots, looking back, I could hit in my sleep, but in the game they were maybe a little high. That made it hard on my guys. But, nah, it’s definitely something that calls for improvement and definitely something that we’re working on day to day.”

Along with Freeman, tight end Rhett Ellison (ankle), running back Matt Asiata (shoulder) and receiver Rodney Smith (hip) have also been declared out for Sunday’s game. 

Defensive tackle Fred Evans missed practice on Friday with a knee injury, but he’s expected to play Sunday and is listed as questionable.

“Fred Evans tweaked his knee a little bit, but he should be fine,” Frazier said. “We’re going to see how he feels tomorrow morning.”

Safety Jamarca Sanford also appeared on the injury report for the first time on Friday. He was limited in practice with an ankle injury and he’s listed as questionable.

Defensive end Jared Allen (ankle), defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (back), linebacker Chad Greenway (wrist), cornerback A.J. Jefferson (ankle), left tackle Matt Kalil (low back), running back Adrian Peterson (hamstring), kicker Blair Walsh (left hamstring) and defensive tackle Kevin Williams (knee) are all listed as probable for Sunday after participating fully in practice on Friday.

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