Brian Hall’s Vikings mailbag

Welcome to the Christian Ponder edition of our new Minnesota Vikings mailbag.
For the second time this preseason, I’m answering your questions before the ever-important third preseason game for Minnesota on Sunday at San Francisco. We will be doing a weekly mailbag during the regular season to answer your questions about the Vikings.
The starting quarterback, his present and future, dominated the questions this week:
Question: Do you the Vikings using the pistol formation much this year? How much have they been using it in practice?
— Eric, Bemidji
Answer: Minnesota has been using more shotgun, which is the basis for the pistol offense, more this preseason. But the Vikings’ use hasn’t been the true read-option you’re seeing teams like the San Francisco 49ers use. Minnesota likes Ponder in the shotgun, believing it gives him a chance to make quick decisions and get the ball out.
Like what you saw in the second preseason game in which Ponder took most of his snaps in the shotgun, the Vikings have been practicing it as well. I do believe Ponder will be in the shotgun more than he has in the past, giving him a quick pass or handoff option. Still, Minnesota’s offense is built around Adrian Peterson. Playing too much in the shotgun limits the impact Peterson can make.
Q: If the Vikings let Christian Ponder go if he has a bad season will they draft a new quarterback in the first round next year?
— Rebecca, Minnesota
Q: If Christian ponder doesn’t perform well this season, would the Vikings draft a QB next year draft or would the Vikings give him another chance to prove himself?
— Oluwakayode James oyebadem, Houston, Tex.
Q: What do you see happening in the offseason if Ponder can not lead this team to the playoff this season usually if the QB can not make a dramatic change in the 3rd years, it is certainly he is not going to be a franchise QB. This is a QB driven league even though we have a league MVP behind him, there is no exception and excuses this year with improved receivers. What’s your take on?
— Omar, Mankato
A: I’ll throw all three of these together. If Minnesota makes the decision that Ponder isn’t its franchise starter — and this season will be the defining one for Ponder — the team basically has two options. The Vikings can, and would likely need to, draft for the future with an early pick. Whether its securing a quarterback in the draft who can start right away, as we’ve seen in recent years, or one to develop, Minnesota will be looking in the first couple of rounds for that quarterback. Of course, much of that may depend on where the Vikings will be drafting. If Minnesota is moving on from Ponder, it likely means the team underachieved this season and is looking at a high pick.
Or the Vikings can use a veteran stopgap until they find their future starter, or if they need to develop a potential 2014 draft pick. Matt Cassel did sign a two-year contract and could be the fill-in. If Minnesota pulls the plug on Ponder during the season, it will be Cassel. There will also be unexciting possibilities, likely, in free agency. My guess is Minnesota would will be investing heavily in a long-term solution, likely via the draft, if they move on from Ponder.
Q: The first two pre season games Ponder played very little, he needs the reps, why doesn’t he play more? I know he might get hurt but he needs to play to improve or the Vikings as a team will fail. Thank you.
— Alan Tiseth, Chatham, Ill.
A: I was confused by Ponder’s playing time a bit in the first two preseason games as well. Minnesota is essentially treating him like an established veteran, which he hasn’t proven. Playing him only two plays in the first preseason game was curious. Coach Leslie Frazier stuck with his plan to only play the starters one series. But I’m not sure what really could have been seen in two plays to evaluate Ponder and the offense. If Ponder didn’t need more than two plays in the first game, essentially Frazier was saying he didn’t need to play.
You’re right, as much as the Vikings can and do rely on Peterson, the MVP, Ponder’s play will largely define this season. The game reps are important for Ponder’s growth and the cohesiveness for the offense, and likely the risk-reward of playing and getting the timing down was worth the chance of injuries. You should see the first-team offense quite a bit more in Sunday’s third preseason game.
Q: Are the vikings really going to start the season with Ponder as the starting QB?
— steve
Q: When are you going to realize that Ponder can’t throw the ball more then five yards or it ends up in the other teams hands? Its time to dump this albatross before he takes us on a 4-13 ride to nowhere. I mean really what is the problem just dump him and move on already.
–Anthony McDonald, Plantation, Fla.
A: Yes (see above) they will start the season with Ponder, and I don’t think I really have the authority to make the call. Joking aside, Ponder’s critics are out in full force after his shaky preseason and likely aren’t going away any time soon. But Minnesota will be going with Ponder this season and expect the team to give him every opportunity to sink or swim. In reality, it’s what the organization needs. General manager Rick Spielman and the coaches have to find out, once and for all, if Ponder can be the franchise quarterback.
Turning your back on the No. 12 overall pick is a tough decision. Ponder will get an extended run this season to prove himself. If he doesn’t, the team will move on. Expect Ponder to be the starter the majority of the season, at the very least, though. While passionate fans have already made up their minds on Ponder, the team hasn’t and it’s in the organization’s best interests.
Q: When do you see Patterson replacing Simpson as 1st team WR?
— Judd Zulgad’s Hoodie
A: I love getting questions from inanimate objects, or are you animate Mr. Hoodie? Anyway, I’ve changed my opinion on this very question during training camp and the preseason. I had heard all the reports about Patterson leading into and following April’s draft: that he is raw, that he is not a good route-runner and even the reports that he wasn’t a hard worker. Meanwhile, Simpson was coming back for a second year in the system, is healthy and is playing for a new contract.
I believe Simpson will start the season as a starter, and he might even continue in that role all season long in a give-the-nod-to-the-veteran sort of manner. But I do believe Patterson will have a bigger role in the offense than Simpson this year. I have not seen any laziness or work ethic issues with Patterson. Even in practice, you can see his talent. He has good hands, making several highlight-type catches in practice. While his route-running might still need work, he has the type of physical talent to overcome those issues and make plays other receivers can’t make. I am surprised he hasn’t received more time with Ponder in practices, but Patterson should became an integral part of the offense early this season.
Q: With Stephen Burton making big splash with the team and trying to secure a spot, is it more likely for him to land with the speacial teams then of course still can use him in a WR set. Also how long is Ponders leash here and why not TRY big pass plays in preseason just to see how the quaterbacks can throw the ball deep?! That way it keeps the DB’s honest and puts that perspective out there where they can work on. Thanks! SKOL
— Al Jr, Sioux Falls, S.D.
A: Ahhh, and I thought I was getting a break from Ponder. As I stated above, I believe Ponder enters the season with a pretty good leash just because they need to make a final decision on him following this season — or maybe later in the year. Burton on the other hand has been a big surprise during training camp and the preseason.
Entering training camp, I thought Burton might be on the outside looking in when roster cuts came down, but he might be working himself into near-lock status for the final roster. Burton said he worked hard in the offseason to shape his body and prepare himself to fight for a roster spot. He’s a willing special teams player and might be the top backup option to Patterson at kickoff returner right now. He’s also still in the mix for the punt return job, but has fallen behind Marcus Sherels and Bobby Felder there.
Burton is a good blocker as well, an important aspect to make Minnesota’s roster. Burton played quite a bit last season, but it was almost a tell for the Vikings as they brought him in on running plays to block. If he can be more of a receiver to complement his blocking and special teams’ work, he’ll stick for another season.
Q: Why don’t the back up receivers get to play with the starting or back up quaterback? no offense to the 3 and 4 string but they aren’t  that good.
— anonymous, Minnesota
A: Like I mentioned with Patterson above, there are cases where you wonder why some of the backups don’t get worked in with the starters. Patterson will be an important part of the offense this season and could use time to get on the same page with Ponder, just like starters Greg Jennings and Simpson, and third receiver Jarius Wright. But in most cases, the reason is just to give Ponder and his main receiving options this season as much time as possible to develop continuity and timing.
While it doesn’t help judge the likes of Joe Webb, Burton, Chris Summers, Adam Thielen and others, the starters need the time to improve together. If a receiver isn’t likely to make the roster, playing him with the starters is wasted time. If a receiver is good enough, he’ll have his chance to show the coaches, whether it be in individual drills and team drills in practice or in preseason games. Remember, they’re also going up against third- and fourth-string defenders.
Q: Other than the first-rounders, which rookies will make the biggest impact this season?
— Chad, Cannon Falls
A: The easy answer here would be the fifth-round pick, punter Jeff Locke. Locke might be the only other rookie to see significant action this season. Locke will be the team’s main punter and holder and is proving why the Vikings drafted him to replace Kluwe.
But aside from the punter, I would say Gerald Hodges has the best chance to make an impact. Hodges’ shot at vying for a starting linebacker role is all but gone with the way Marvin Mitchell has played and Desmond Bishop’s signing. But Hodges will likely have a key role on special teams coverage units. Seventh-round linebacker Michael Mauti could also see time on special teams, but Hodges has the edge now and has the athleticism that can really excel on the coverage units.
Q: Dearest Mr. Hall
My question is:  Will you please Nancy Kerrigan one of Ponder’s knees?
It would be GREATLY appreciated…  And please understand that I say that out of my love for the Vikings (and all of their fans), not out of any personal animosity towards what’s-his-name.
Alex Smith isn’t Tom Brady… but Ponder is NOOO Alex Smith.  Why?  WHY?  WHYYYY didn’t they pull the trigger on Smith?  They are built to win NOW, and in the NFL that never lasts too long.  They don’t have time to waste on this nonsense.
Ponder is not an NFL QB and he never will be.  I don’t know a single person that disagrees with me in the least.  Ponder hasn’t looked lost in preseason simply because it’s early.  This is just what he is.  His ceiling truly isn’t high enough to fit a pancake under.
Why, Spielman??? WHY???????!!
But, hey, at least the new uniforms look better.  If you’re going to lose a lot of games, and sadly they WILL (despite Adrian’s superhuman efforts), at least wear something dignified.
Thanks for your time, good sir!
P.S.-  If you run into Jennings give him a hug for me.  He’s going to need a lot of support in the coming months.  All of the money in the world won’t make the Ponderizing of his stats any easier on him.
P.P.S.-  Maybe put a character limit on these questions in the future so that you don’t have to deal with someone like me.
— R.R., Wayzata
A: We’ll take those into consideration.
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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