Vikings have QB decision to make if Christian Ponder can’t play

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Another week and Minnesota Vikings

coach Leslie Frazier has another decision to make at quarterback.

Ever since Christian Ponder fractured a rib in Week 3, it’s

been a weekly topic for Frazier. After starts by Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman,

Frazier ended up back on Ponder. The questions and decisions persisted.

Frazier has a different type of decision to make this week.

The choice this week comes down simply to health for Frazier, as he said it did

in Week 4 when Cassel filled in for Ponder and in Week 8 when Ponder returned

to the starting lineup in place of Freeman, who had a concussion.

Ponder, for his part, looked last week as if he might be

putting the weekly decision to rest. He was 17- of-21 passing for 174 yards and

led two touchdown drives in the second half as Minnesota came from behind to

beat Washington. Then he dislocated his left shoulder while diving for the end

zone and missed the rest of the game.

The injury is to his non-throwing shoulder, which leaves

open the possibility Ponder could still play Sunday at Seattle, and leaves

Frazier, or the team’s medical staff, with yet another decision.

“Probably have to take a look at and just see if he can

function,” Frazier said Monday. “You don’t want to put him in harm’s

way. If he can’t protect himself you wouldn’t want to put him out there. So

we’ll have a better when we come back on Wednesday and start practicing. He’s

made progress, which is encouraging. We’ll have to see how much progress he

makes in the next couple of days and moving on to Thursday and Friday as

well.”

Health is the factor this week, and the task won’t be easy

for any quarterback. Seattle has the league’s third-ranked defense in total

yards allowed (289 per game), points allowed (15.9 per game) and second in

passing yards (178 per game). The Seahawks are fifth in the league in sacks,

fourth in forced fumbles and tied for the lead with 13 interceptions.

If Ponder can’t go, the starting job would fall again to

Cassel or Freeman.

Cassel is the veteran option, who has played in tough

environments like Seattle in the past and entered for Ponder as the backup on

Thursday. Yet, Frazier’s comments after the game seem as if they look at Cassel

as the top backup option, and only as a backup.

In his one game for Minnesota, Freeman struggled with

accuracy, completing 20 of 53 passes and didn’t look ready to play just two

weeks after signing with the Vikings. He suffered a concussion and has now been

the third quarterback for the past several weeks.

Freeman has been working with coaches to acclimate and learn

the offense. But a road game against Seattle’s defense, with the notoriously

loud Seattle crowd, would be a tough return to the lineup.

Frazier said last week Ponder has “no reason to look

over his shoulder” when it comes to being the starting quarterback.

Ponder’s play last Thursday made the choice more about health than whether the

team might take another look at Freeman. At least for now, Frazier seems set

with Ponder.

Ponder also feels set as the starter. He said he felt better

Monday and plans to test the injury later in the week to see if he can play.

“The thing with this injury is, it’s not really going

to hinder anything,” Ponder said. “It’s not hindering my throwing

motion or anything. It’s just going to be taking a hit or something, and we

don’t have fear that it’s going to get worse. It’s just going to be able to

handle the pain, and if I can do it, then I’ll play.”

The extra days of rest after playing Thursday definitely aid

Ponder, along with the injury not being to his throwing shoulder. The Vikings

will test Ponder’s strength and range of motion during the week, without a true

gauge to how the shoulder will respond because the team doesn’t tackle during

practice.

Frazier called the strength tests with athletic trainers

“most pertinent” for Ponder and said he’d likely need to see Ponder

practice Thursday to have a chance to play Sunday.

“That Thursday practice is pretty important because we

go through everything that we introduced on Wednesday, plus third-down,

red-zone, the whole nine yards,” Frazier said. “So, that one is

pretty important. You like to get some work on that Thursday if you

could.”

Ponder is optimistic he’ll play. If he can’t, Frazier has

another decision to make.

“That’s the proverbial question,” Frazier said.

“We got two other capable guys that are capable of starting for us and

doing a good job. So one of those two guys will end up being the starter if he

can’t go.”

Follow Brian Hall on Twitter