Ponder likely to start vs Pack; concussion tests for Freeman

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Christian Ponder might have his chance at redemption.

Ponder, the embattled third-year quarterback for the

Minnesota Vikings, is “more than likely” to start Sunday night

against the Green Bay Packers, coach Leslie Frazier said after Josh Freeman

reported concussion-like symptoms Tuesday.

Freeman, who started his first game for Minnesota on Monday

night since signing with the team two weeks ago, will need to go through the concussion testing

protocol. He had assumed the starting role

over Ponder and Matt Cassel, but Frazier said the team will have to “proceed

as if he’s not going to make it.”

“Well, the fact that (Freeman is) not able to practice

today and you lose today on a short week, makes it tough,” Frazier said. “We

need to get Christian ready to go.”

Frazier said tight end Rhett Ellison (ankle) and Matt Asiata

wouldn’t practice Wednesday because of their injuries, but the loss of Freeman

continues the rotation among Minnesota’s quarterbacks. Freeman became the third

Vikings’ starting quarterback this season and 11th since Daunte Culpepper

suffered a devastating knee injury in 2005.

“At that quarterback position, you want to know who’s going to be lining

up week in and week out,” Frazier said. “But that’s the circumstance

where we are and Christian will do a good job for us on Sunday night.”

Ponder entered this season as the unquestioned starter for the Vikings — a

pivotal year for his evaluation in the team’s eyes. Then Ponder had five

interceptions and two lost fumbles as Minnesota lost the first three games of

the season. Ponder said he feels more relaxed now.

“I think I was playing with a lot of pressure on myself

before and never felt in sync,” Ponder said. “Now is the opportunity

to take that deep breath and go out and have fun again. I already got benched,

so it can’t get worse than that.”

Ponder lost his starting job after suffering a broken rib.

Cassel started the next two games, the second after Ponder had returned to

health. Then Freeman was signed and the plan was for Freeman to start the rest

of the season.

Ponder returned to the backup role behind Freeman last week,

leaping ahead of Cassel again in the quarterback hierarchy and gets the chance

to start again this week.

“It’s been an interesting ride,” Ponder said of

the past four weeks. “Obviously it swung away from me, it swings back and

it’s time to grab ahold of it and not let it swing away from me again. It’s

been obviously up and down. I think it’s true to say that I was frustrated and

down, but I didn’t let that affect me. I know this is an opportunity to step

back and improve on some things and I did. It’s got to translate out to the

field though. I’m excited.”

Freeman’s debut with the Vikings on Monday night was a rough one as he went

20-of-53 passing for 190 yards and threw one interception. Frazier said Freeman

would remain the starter, but then the quarterback came in Tuesday afternoon

and complained of concussion-like symptoms.

Freeman told Frazier the symptoms might have been caused by

a hit he took in the third quarter Monday night, but Freeman didn’t tell the

team of any issues until Tuesday.

“He didn’t mention to me or anyone else,” Frazier

said of Freeman having issues Monday. “He did say after one of the hits in

the third that’s when he felt like something may not have been right. That’s

what he told me this morning. But there was nothing on the sideline or during

the game to make us go ask him, ‘are you alright?'”

Ponder had the best single game of his career the last time

he faced Green Bay. In the regular-season finale last year, with a playoff spot

on the line, Ponder threw for 234 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-34 win for

Minnesota. The 120.2 quarterback rating was the best single-game rating of his

career.

Ponder never built off that last game though, struggling in

the first three games this season. Maybe stepping back and getting the chance

to watch from the sideline will be beneficial to Ponder.

“Any time you have to take a back seat and you have to

sit down for a minute, it gives you time to reflect and I think that he’s done

that,” receiver Greg Jennings said. “I think that he’s seen how

important it is to play at a high level at that position. But even more

importantly, how important that position is to the overall success of the team

and what it takes to actually hold that position.

“It’s not just about your quarterback play, it’s about

how you lead off the field as well. So, and on the field, how you command the

huddle, how you demand things of your teammates, I think he’s had an

opportunity to see that.”

Ponder agreed.

“I want to be on the field, and this is my opportunity

to get back out there again,” Ponder said. “I think it was good for

me to kind of take a step back for a couple weeks and take a deep breath and

learn from those first three games and get out there and play better. I’m

excited for this opportunity. What a great way to come back out against the

Packers at home. It’ll be fun.”

Frazier said he hopes Ponder plays well Sunday and he isn’t

thinking about who will start in the future. Ponder sees his chance at earning

back his starting spot.

“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.

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