EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — All offseason, Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier has touted competition for a young team coming off a 3-13 season.
Depth has been addressed to allow the coaches more options at several key areas, but one position — quarterback — remains untouched.
Frazier doesn’t believe second-year quarterback Christian Ponder has competition. At least, that’s the coach’s mindset heading into training camp at the end of next month.
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“Well, we’re going into it with Christian being our starting quarterback,” Frazier said Thursday on the final day of Minnesota’s mandatory three-day minicamp. “If something were to happen to Christian because of injury, we feel like we have a capable backup in Joe (Webb). But there’s no competition as to, ‘Joe has to do this to beat out Christian.’ Christian, it’s his job.
“We’re trusting that he’s going to be the guy to lead us to where we want to go this next season. And we think we have a capable guy if something were to happen to Christian, that Joe could step in and do a real good job for us.”
The Vikings are putting their trust in the development of Ponder, the 12th overall pick in last year’s draft, and hope he can be the team’s long-sought franchise quarterback. Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman started the offseason by declaring Ponder the starter going forward and have seen nothing to change their minds.
For his part, Ponder has worked extensively this offseason. He has trained hard, gaining 20 pounds since the end of last season, which he calls “all muscle.” He has watched film from 2011 and tried to correct deficiencies. And he’s also tried to become more of a team leader, often getting together with teammates and developing a rapport not only with the offensive players but members of the defense as well.
None of that was possible for Ponder last year as a rookie, when he was dealing with the NFL lockout and didn’t have a guaranteed starting spot. Donovan McNabb was signed, and Ponder’s first season was slated to be developmental.
Then Ponder relieved McNabb in a blowout loss at Chicago in Week 6. A day later, Frazier couldn’t deny the rookie any longer and replaced the struggling McNabb. Ponder started the final 10 games and finished with a 70.1 quarterback rating, 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, while completing 54.3 percent of his passes for 1,853 yards.
Ponder set out for improvement and can see a difference just since the beginning of the offseason program nine weeks ago.
“I think for me the biggest improvement I saw was picking up blitzes and learning how to do that and recognizing things a lot better,” Ponder said. “I think the game’s really slowed down in these 10 OTAs (organized team activities) and the three days of minicamp. It’s really slowed down for me.”
The Vikings can only hope. Ponder is their guy heading into training camp July 26 in Mankato. Frazier has seen improvements to support his belief in Ponder and forestall a quarterback competition.
“I think his decision-making has gotten a lot better,” Frazier said. “I was talking to (quarterbacks coach) Craig Johnson this morning about yesterday’s practice when we had our blitz period. Just seeing where he was a little frantic early on in OTAs getting the ball out a little too soon or not recognizing things as quickly as we would like for him to. Now, things have kind of slowed down for him a little bit and he’s able to identify things in pre-snap a lot better, which is something we were all hoping for.”