Ponder takes first-team snaps, could start Sunday

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — When Christian Ponder dislocated his shoulder last week, it appeared as though the Minnesota Vikings quarterback carousel would continue.

Blessed with the extra days of rest after playing Thursday night, Ponder is not being ruled out for Sunday’s game at Seattle after taking many of the first-team repetitions in practice on Wednesday.

Coach Leslie Frazier wouldn’t go as far as saying Ponder would be ready for Sunday’s game, but he has made enough progress to practice Wednesday and Frazier wouldn’t say who would start between Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman, if Ponder wasn’t available.

“There’s a chance for that,” Frazier said when asked if Freeman would start if Ponder wasn’t ready.

“We’ll talk about it depending on Christian’s health and take a look at how the guys are preparing and how well we think they’re ready for this ballgame between the two, Matt or Josh.”

Ponder was listed as limited in practice, but was first through the rotation of quarterbacks in the portion of practice open to the media on Wednesday and didn’t appear to be bothered by the injury to his left, non-throwing shoulder.

The biggest concern for Ponder and the Vikings is strength in the shoulder and range of motion, and his ability to withstand a hit likely wouldn’t be tested in practices, as teams don’t tackle during in-season practices.

Cassel was the backup for Ponder in last week’s game. Frazier has said he likes Cassel in the backup role and previously said the starting assignment was between Ponder and Freeman. But Frazier wouldn’t rule Cassel out as starter.

“Not necessarily,” Frazier said. “He’s excellent in that role but that doesn’t preclude him from potentially starting as well, so we’ll see.”

Freeman continues to stay after practice and work with quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson and said he’s preparing if he was needed to play Sunday. He said improvement has come in the following weeks since he was forced into a start on Oct. 21 just two weeks after signing with Minnesota.

“I think it’s just an overall understanding of the offense,” Freeman said. “It was such a narrow focus coming in that first week and just understanding the exact play, but now kind of having a grasp of the entire offense and just specific little notes for each play. It’s allowed me to go relax and play my game a little more.”

Freeman struggled in his one appearance with the Vikings, completing just 20 of his 53 passes and is now the league’s lowest-ranked quarterback in completion percentage at 37.7 percent this season with Minnesota and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“It was tough, obviously,” Freeman said of his first game. “But it was more just settling down, really, because I was out there, I was fired up. I felt good about everything, felt good about the plan and I just needed to relax and play my game. It was an interesting experience, learn from it, gather what I can from it and keep moving.”

Freeman said Ponder took the majority of the first-team snaps during Wednesday’s practice. He said he isn’t sure of the team’s plan at quarterback going forward, but feels comfortable if he was to get another chance to start.

“I think coach Musgrave he’s been putting together great game plans and just understanding what we’re trying to do as an offense with the ball, what he’s trying to get accomplished when he’s calling it,” Freeman said. “I think that’s a big step in being a high-percentage, high-completion guy and ultimately efficient.”

Freeman said he isn’t sure of his future with the team and wasn’t sure if he needs to become a starter to ultimately judge whether he would be comfortable returning next season. Freeman is signed through the rest of this season and will be an unrestricted free agent next offseason.

“I’ve never really been through a situation like this,” Freeman said. “At the end of the year, I don’t know what the plan is from either side. So, right now I’m living in the moment and continuing to be the best that I can be for this team right now. It’s kind of a deal where that bridge is far down the road and when we come to it, we’ll take care of it. At this point in time, I’m just trying to continue to compete.”

For now, it looks like Freeman will still be competing as a backup.

Follow Brian Hall on Twitter