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Updated: August 27th, 2012 6:49pm
Notebook: Bill Musgrave says QB Christian Ponder is still learning

Notebook: Bill Musgrave says QB Christian Ponder is still learning

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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EDEN, PRAIRIE, Minn. - Christian Ponder was sacked five times in the Minnesota Vikings' 12-10 preseason loss to San Diego on Friday, tying the most sacks against him in a single game last season.

On Sunday, the Vikings put Ponder through drills in practice that were designed to make sure he's stepping up in the pocket. A day later, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave discussed the fact that avoiding sacks is not just an issue for Ponder.

"There are quarterbacks throughout this league that are learning every game," Musgrave said. "Tom Brady has mentioned that he's taking too many sacks this preseason too, and that's what the preseason is for.

"It's essential for young and old players, it's essential for coaches. I know I've never walked off a game field or even a practice field without learning something and I think our players are the same way. We learned a lot from each of these three previous outings."

Asked if some of the sacks Friday were caused by Ponder waiting for something down the field to open up, Musgrave said: "There are a number of things that happen on a football field. Sometimes you're waiting for a guy to get open. Sometimes you're waiting for a sight line.

"At times you're a little bit indecisive, at times you're trying to give the chance for the play to actually evolve and develop. We know there's a limited shelf life back there in the pocket, especially against a good pass rushing team like San Diego, it bit us in the rear end."

Ponder will not play in the Vikings' exhibition finale on Thursday at Houston.

Schwartz makes progress

Frazier said guard Geoff Schwartz did "pretty good" in his first practice back after undergoing sports hernia surgery on Aug. 7.

"It looks like we may be able to get some good quality work out of him next week when we start preparing for our season opener (on Sept. 9 against Jacksonville)," Frazier said. "He moved around pretty good in individual drills.

"We didn't put him through any team stuff but individual stuff, the drills, he looked pretty good."

Schwartz was getting reps at right guard before his injury and eventually could challenge Brandon Fusco for the starting job at that spot.

Decisions, decisions

Frazier said the Vikings definitely will hold out a few starters Thursday.

"There may be a few guys who get some reps but we're going to err on the side of caution," Frazier said.

Fusco and safety Harrison Smith are two of the projected starters who could "potentially" play, according to Frazier. But rookie left tackle Matt Kalil will sit.

The Vikings have to cut their roster from 75 to 53 players by 8 p.m. Friday, meaning the turnaround for making decisions will be a quick one.

"I'm sure that Rick (Spielman, the Vikings general manager) and George (Paton, the assistant GM) will be talking to different people getting information about what's going on," Frazier said.

"We'll have to really be on it when we get back in the office and look at our roster and also look at what's going on around the league and see if there are some guys we might be interested in. We'll have some long discussions on that Friday when we get back."

Corner battle

Veteran Chris Carr and rookie Josh Robinson both worked with the first team in the nickel package on Friday night because Chris Cook (concussion) was sidelined.

Carr, who is entering his eighth season and signed with the Vikings as a free agent this offseason, got the start at the right corner. Robinson came in when middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley left the field.

Cook, though, will be healthy for the regular-season opener, meaning Carr and Robinson are competing to be the extra corner at this point.

There is a good chance that competition won't play out on the field Thursday. Robinson will not play because of a concussion, and Carr is dealing with a back injury and also might be sidelined.

"This is another week that is important to the evaluation process to see how guys do," defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. "We haven't made any hard and firm rules in terms of who will make the team, who will start, who will be where. We're still waiting to see after this ballgame how guys play and we'll firm it up at that time."

Williams said Carr does have the advantage of having experience on Robinson, who was drafted by the Vikings in the third round.

Williams also mentioned that Carr can play inside in the nickel but that spot is expected to belong to Winfield, meaning that either Carr or Robinson would play outside on passing downs opposite from Cook.

No pain

Tight end John Carlson returned to practice Sunday after having been sidelined since July 31 because of a Grade 2 sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee.

Carlson won't play Thursday against Houston but should be ready to go against Jacksonville.

"I haven't run a whole lot in the last few weeks, so my conditioning level isn't where it needs to be yet," Carlson said Monday. "But I've got a couple of weeks before that first game, and I'll do what I can to get back to full speed."

Carlson said his knee responded "fine" after Sunday's practice.

Frazier said Carlson looked more comfortable with the brace he is wearing during Monday's practice.

Replacing Simpson

The Vikings did not play wide receiver Jerome Simpson on Friday in order to spread reps around to some of the split ends who will be eligible for the first three games this season.

Simpson has been suspended for the opening three games for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. That means someone will be needed to replace the player who is expected to stretch the field for the Vikings.

Devin Aromashodu caught three passes for 28 yards against the Chargers, while Michael Jenkins had one reception for 13 yards and Manny Arceneaux caught a pass for 10 yards.

Stephen Burton had three catches for 88 yards in the first two preseason games, including a 52-yard reception on a Ponder pass in the exhibition opener at San Francisco, but he was not targeted on Friday.

"I think we feel confident there," Musgrave said. "We have a good corps of wide receivers, so we're going to be OK until Jerome returns. We'll be excited for his return, but we're going to do our best in his absence to remain effective through the air."

Aromashodu's three catches were his first three of the preseason. He has been targeted 12 times.

Arceneaux, meanwhile, has caught all three of the passes thrown his way for 60 yards. However, he has received little work with the first team.

"Manny does a good job," Musgrave said, "you can count on Manny every day at practice and also every game that he's going to put his best foot forward."

Working with Walsh

Rookie kicker Blair Walsh continued to show his leg strength on kickoffs on Friday, putting two more into the end zone for touchbacks.

But special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said the sixth-round pick still needs some work.

"He'll still wrap his foot a little bit but we call that the power alley, between the left numbers and right hash for a right footer, and when he strokes it good, he may not hit it perfect, but with a good follow through, he's going to get a good 7, 8, 9 yards deep and that's what he did for us," Priefer said. "Even when they brought it out we tackled them at the 17 and that's what we're looking for, either a touchback or a tackle inside the 20 and that's what we keep preaching."

Punt return competition

Priefer was pleased with what rookie Jarius Wright did on punt returns Friday - he averaged 14.5 yards on two returns - but he also made it clear that cornerback Marcus Sherels remains in the mix.

Sherels, however, won't play Thursday in the preseason finale because of an ankle injury.

"Let's talk after Thursday," Priefer said when asked about Wright being the primary punt return man. "We're not quite there yet. He's improved every week, and I am pleased by that and I'm not ready to throw Marcus away either. I think Marcus is going to be a good punt returner as well."

Wright has shown improvement on punt returns in training camp, but Priefer had an explanation for why he might have looked more comfortable Friday.

"As you know, it's a lot easier indoors and he's gotten better," Priefer said. "When it gets outside and gets a little windy, he gets a little squirly."

Frazier said Reggie Jones also will get a shot on punt returns Thursday.

Quick hits

Ryan D'Imperio (shoulder) didn't do any work in practice Monday and Frazier said he does not know if the fullback will play on Thursday. Safeties Mistral Raymond (back) and Andrew Sendejo (ankle) and Robinson and Sherels all will be held out of against the Texans. Frazier wants to see if Carr can practice Tuesday before making a determination on his status for the preseason finale.

• The Cleveland Browns claimed defensive end Ernest Owusu, who was waived by Vikings on Saturday as part of their initial cut down. New England, meanwhile, claimed wide receiver Kerry Taylor.

Tom Pelissero contributed

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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