Notebook: Frazier narrows quarterback options to Ponder and Freeman
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier firmly placed quarterback Matt Cassel in the backup role on Monday following Christian Ponder's underwhelming return to the starting lineup in a 44-31 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night.
Without directly saying why Cassel is ruled out, Frazier boiled the situation down to finding their longterm answer, which a 31-year-old Cassel is not.
"I don't want to discount Matt [Cassel], but Christian [Ponder] did some good things in that ballgame. There were some things he could obviously do better, but that has something to do with it. He has led us to some wins in the past," Frazier said. "Josh [Freeman], we brought him here to evaluate him and determine whether he could be a guy that could be a potential player for us in the future."
"That's what goes into trying to evaluate the both of them."
Both 25-years of age, Ponder and Freeman still carry the 'potential' label. But even that fragile perception is waning for both quarterbacks. Freeman's time in Tampa Bay revealed a more promising upside compared to any game Ponder has put together in Minnesota, including Sunday night's loss.
In his 30th start, Ponder conducted an offense that produced just 15 first downs, three from Packers' penalties. He completed 14 passes, none of which went longer than 18 yards as the Vikings were held to just 10 offensive points in the first 55 game minutes.
Freeman's debut performance was much worse, as he was called upon to throw 53 times in a road game that he only trailed by two scores. Freeman suffered a concussion as the Vikings offense was shutout in the 23-7 loss at the New York Giants on Oct. 21.
These performances, while arguably plagued by bad circumstance, have made the Vikings quarterback changes a weekly routine. There's no sign of that changing unless Ponder or Freeman have a performance worth seeing again.
"[We're] just trying to look at the whole picture, who will give us the best chance to win," Frazier said. "From our standpoint as coaches, that's for this Dallas [Cowboys] ball game."
Freeman (concussion) was cleared to practice on Friday and said Saturday was the first day he could "run around and jog without any side effects."
The consensus from coaches and Freeman was that an apparent lack of preparation had little to do with his bevy of off-target passes against the Giants. If he were to start on Nov. 3, it'll be almost a month since he joined the team.
"Anytime you step into a new system, you learn the verbiage, how they call plays, visualize things. And getting a better feel for Coach [Bill] Musgrave, his playcallng and how he likes to install things and what we're trying to do with the football," Freeman said. "The more time you spend with that, the more comfortable you feel."
"I feel like I can go out and compete and give our team a chance to win. That's this week, any week."
'A good sign'
Defensive end Jared Allen was among a few team leaders to claim a lack of effort wasn't at fault for the Vikings' 1-6 start.
Frazier saw something in Sunday night's 44-31 loss that piqued his optimism as well.
"I like what I saw when the game was kind of out of reach and we were on defense on that goal line stand, they were still trying to put more points on the board, they still had their starters in," Frazier said. "To see our guys compete and keep them out of the endzone. That's a good sign. Then to see our offense come back and finish the game with a touchdown on the two-minute drive, just the way they worked through those situations, told me a lot about our guys."
There haven't been many good signs for Frazier, who finds himself on a relatively hot seat after back-to-back primetime losses, coupled with a tumultuous quarterback situation that is further exposed by a terrible defense.
Frazier made the playoffs in his second full season as head coach, but as a former cornerback and defensive coordinator, his team's performances this season are that much more embarrassing.
Many have speculated a mid-season coaching change after losses like the 35-10 home pounding by the Carolina Panthers. However, Frazier's even-keel attitude doesn't set off players like former coach Brad Childress' sideline tirades that helped him lose the locker room.
To that tune, Frazier remained calm after Sunday's loss and said he wants to produce results so his players have something to fall back on.
"It just seems like we have strong-enough character and strong-enough leadership on this team that the guys will come back," Frazier said. "We've just got to find a way to give them some hope."
Safety Jamarca Sanford played just 25 snaps [33%] before leaving Sunday's game in the second quarter with a groin injury. Sanford appeared to walk around the locker room fine, but said he was day-to-day.
Frazier said cornerback Chris Cook has a hip muscle strain and is also day-to-day.