Ponder still Vikings' No. 1 QB but Cassel could start

BY foxsports • October 1, 2013

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Leslie Frazier is sticking with Christian Ponder as the Minnesota Vikings' quarterback, but he isn't ready to declare who will be behind center following the team's bye week.
Ponder, the team's much-maligned third-year starter, missed last week's game with a fractured rib and backup Matt Cassel excelled in leading Minnesota to its first win of the season. Frazier said he wasn't ready to make a quarterback switch Tuesday, meeting with the media a day after the Vikings returned from London and their 34-27 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Frazier left open the possibility Cassel would start on Oct. 13 against the Carolina Panthers after the bye.

"It's hard to be concrete when you know that Christian is dealing with an injury, so we'll see what happens," Frazier said.

Cassel's success Sunday – 16-of-25 passing for 248 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers -- opened the possibility that Minnesota might be better off with the 31-year-old Cassel as the starter over Ponder, who has been inconsistent, at best, in his 29 NFL starts for the Vikings since being taken with the 12th overall pick in the 2011 draft.

Frazier said Ponder is still the team's starter, but did hedge when pressed about Cassel and his efficiency in leading Minnesota's offense on Sunday to season-highs with 393 total yards and 34 points.

"I think a lot of it had to do with Matt, getting the ball out on time, being able to get us out of runs and execute when we had some eight-man fronts in the passing game," Frazier said of the offensive efficiency Sunday. "So, I think a lot of it had to do with his execution as a quarterback."

Then why is Frazier sticking with Ponder as the team's No. 1 quarterback?

"We'll talk about a lot of things, but it's more than one ballgame," Frazier said. "He did a good job. I don't want to take anything away from what Matt did. But we'll try to do what's best for our team. If we thought that Matt gave us the best chance to beat Carolina then we'd approach that situation as well. But if Christian is healthy, we'll take a look at what we need to do."

Ponder's health and the bye week adds to the indecision for Frazier. Ponder told reporters in London that his fractured rib is near his heart and taking a hit could be troublesome.

"Yeah, it's more than just being able to endure it," Frazier said. "There could be some negative ramifications if he were to get hit or land a certain way, so it's more than just pain tolerance."

Frazier said he could wait on the decision on his starter for the next game until the Friday before Minnesota' next game. The players have the week off and don't return to practice until Oct. 9.

Many players expressed support of Cassel following Sunday's game, with MVP running back Adrian Peterson sending the question back to reporters who asked whether the Vikings found a new starting quarterback. 

"What do you think?" Peterson said, later adding: "It's going to be tough for them. It's a good thing we have the bye week coming, let those guys sit back. I'm going to do my job. Ownership and our head coaches square things out and we'll see how things roll when we come back after the bye week."

Frazier said he hadn't heard the comments from the other players in support of Cassel. He also said he doesn't foresee fans turning on Ponder if he starts in the next game at home. Ponder was booed throughout the last game at the Metrodome, a loss to the Cleveland Browns.

"I would expect our fans to be cheering for everybody that's wearing purple on Sunday when we get back at home," Frazier said.

Cassel was signed days after being released by Kansas City in the offseason to be Ponder's veteran backup and possible mentor. Cassel acknowledged then he was coming to the Vikings purely as a backup for Ponder, who hasn't had a veteran influence behind him since taking over as the team's starter in 2011 and the team released previous starter, Donovan McNabb.

Then Cassel performed well Sunday in the team's first win and, more importantly, didn't have any turnovers -- though he did have an interception broken up by Cordarrelle Patterson and a fumble recovered by receiver Jerome Simpson. Ponder had five interceptions and two lost fumbles in the season's first three weeks.

"The big plays that we had, the rhythm that we had as an offense, it was good to see," Frazier said. "I think some of the attempts down the field maybe helped with our run game. But we were much more efficient and probably the big thing, we didn't turn the ball over."

But Frazier commit to a quarterback switch, at least right now.

Cook and Sanford expected back: Frazier said the team came out of Sunday's game in good health, besides the injured players who didn't play. Frazier said the team will keep a close eye on Ponder and tight end Rhett Ellison, who missed his second straight game.

Frazier did say cornerback Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford could return to practice next week after missing Sunday's game.

"From what I've been told, those guys should be on pace to practice with us this week, barring any hiccups this week," Frazier said. "We definitely need them."

Minnesota's defense last in the league against the pass, allowing 326 yards per game. Josh Robinson has struggled in his move to a starting role, in particular. Pro Football Focus has ranked Robinson 153rd out of 154 cornerbacks in the NFL so far this season. Pro Football Focus data shows Robinson has allowed 34 catches on 37 targets in coverage.

"He's had some struggles, in particular inside playing the nickel position," Frazier said. "That's been a challenge for him with all the things we ask that position to do. He's had some good moments. He's had some moments I'm sure he would look back at, at the end of these four weeks, and say, 'Man, I can do that better' and we think he will. He just has to continue to gain some experience and hopefully we'll get better because of that as he gains more experience. 

"But we knew going in this offseason and even in training camp that there were going to be some comments that we were going to have to work through and we're experiencing some of that, but he's doing some good things as well."

Frazier was asked if the team had contacted cornerback Antoine Winfield, a free agent after being released by Seattle, to help address the depth and concern in the secondary.

"We've talked about a lot of things," Frazier said. "We got beat up a little bit in the secondary. We knew going in we'd have some new guys playing some positions that there were going to be some growing pains along the way. We're experiencing some of that. But we've got to keep bringing them along and keep hoping that they're going to improve, which they are. They are improving in some areas. This bye week should help us. But we've talked about a lot of things and ways we can try and help our secondary."

Love released: The Vikings waived offensive tackle DeMarcus Love on Tuesday. Love was let go after serving a four-game suspension for violation of the performance-enhancing drug policy.

Love was a sixth-round pick by the team in 2011 and spent the entire season on the active roster. But Love hasn't been active for a game in his career. He missed the entire 2012 season with a pectoral injury.
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