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Updated: May 1st, 2011 4:03pm
Notebook: Length of lockout could decide if Christian Ponder starts

Notebook: Length of lockout could decide if Christian Ponder starts

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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The Minnesota Vikings haven't ruled out signing a veteran starting quarterback, and rumors about the likes of Donovan McNabb are bound to swirl unless and until they do.

But if the Vikings have time to get their top draft pick ready -- a big if, given the tenuous nature of the NFL's labor situation -- Frazier made clear on Sunday he hopes Christian Ponder will start as a rookie from Week 1.

"Ideally, I'd like for him to be ready to go when we play San Diego (on Sept. 11)," Frazier said in an appearance on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

"That would be the ideal situation -- we've got our Matt Ryan, we've got our (Joe) Flacco, we've got our (Mark) Sanchez right here. But because of the uncertainty of the offseason, it's just hard to determine exactly how you want to approach it. So, we need a little more clarity on what this offseason's going to be like."

In other words, Frazier likes Ponder's chances for starting immediately -- but not if a lockout erases the Vikings' offseason program and perhaps training camp and the preseason, too, leaving insufficient time to evaluate the rookie's readiness.

"It would be tough to be able to send him out there against San Diego if we don't start football, if we don't report until, say, mid-August, or three weeks prior to the season," Frazier said. "That would be a tough, tough deal for any young quarterback. It's tough enough just getting through OTAs and preseason games, but if we start this thing without preseason games or one preseason game, I think you have to rethink how you approach it. So, that'll probably answer what direction we go -- based on when we start football."

The only other quarterbacks on the roster are Joe Webb and Rhett Bomar, who are considered developmental prospects, with Webb best-suited to handle a multipositional role at this stage of his career.

New offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has said he'd like to add a veteran quarterback to "balance" the position. And the Vikings reportedly have shown interest in McNabb, 34, who was benched down the stretch last season in Washington and probably will get released once the lockout ends.

But the likelihood of that union -- or signing another veteran free agent such as Matt Hasselbeck or Marc Bulger -- took a hit when the Vikings drafted Ponder out of Florida State with the 12th overall pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday night.

Ponder's intelligence is highly regarded within scouting circles. And he has a head start on learning the Vikings' new offense, thanks to a session with new coordinator Bill Musgrave and quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson while the NFL was open for business on Friday.

Shortly after Ponder arrived at Vikings headquarters on Friday morning, Frazier put him on the phone with receiver Percy Harvin, whom Ponder hopes to use as an intermediary to connect with his new teammates and perhaps even organize workouts in Florida if the lockout drags on.

How long it drags on seems to be the main question surrounding Ponder's short-term role, since the last thing the Vikings want to do is put their new franchise quarterback in a position to fail. If the answer is "too long," the Vikings would be left with Webb, Bomar or a stopgap veteran willing to serve as strictly a placeholder until the rookie is ready.

"It helps to a degree that he has some information in (Ponder's) hand," Frazier said. "He has some things that he can look at and go through -- even the fact that he may be able to get together with Percy and some of the other players if this offseason continues the way it is, gives us an opportunity maybe to gain an advantage, hopefully. So, we'll see what happens, but the uncertainty just creates a lot of doubt about certain things."

No concern

After the draft ended on Saturday, Frazier said the Vikings felt comfortable after their due diligence on Iowa defensive lineman Christian Ballard, who fell to them in the fourth round after reportedly testing positive marijuana at the NFL scouting combine.

"One of the things about all of our draft picks, our security staff, our scouts have done a great job along with our coaches of delving into every player's background and really having a great feel for what guys would fit our football team and what guys would not fit our football team," Frazier said.

"When we select a player, we are confident that we selected a guy that will fit what we want to do and really be a part of our situation and our team in a positive way. I feel good about all the guys we selected from a character standpoint."

Vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman said the Vikings had a second-round grade on Ballard, whose versatility was viewed as an asset. He'll work initially as a three-technique undertackle -- Kevin Williams' position -- but also played end for the Hawkeyes and could factor at multiple positions in a backup role.

"He gives us some flexibility because of what he's able to do, the fact that we can play in the three-technique or play nose, but he could also slide outside as a defensive end," Frazier said. "He's one of those rare commodities when you talk about big men. He moves extremely well and that flexibility should really help our defense."

Building depth

Another target Frazier had entering the draft: building depth along the offensive line.

They selected two -- Arkansas tackle DeMarcus Love and Slippery Rock center Brandon Fusco -- in the sixth round, making the first time in nine years the Vikings have taken more than one offensive lineman in the same draft.

"It was very important to me," Frazier said. "That was one of our goals going into this. We had a number of picks in order to get it accomplished. Fortunately, we were able to draft a couple of guys who we think will really help us from a depth standpoint and eventually push our starters to improve or eventually be starters."

Quick hits

• The draft's early run on quarterbacks began at No. 8, when the Tennessee Titans selected Jake Locker. Was Frazier surprised? "It's kind of hard to predict," Frazier said. "But you know once that cycle begins, it's going to go fast and that's what was happening at the quarterback position. So, I'm not completely surprised that Jake went where he did. For the same reasons Tennessee took him were similar probably to the reasons we took Christian when we did. You just don't know, and you don't have that many opportunities -- at least we hope we don't -- where we're going to be drafting 12 in the draft, and so you've got to decide. Are you going to do it now? Or are you try to do it free agency? And we all know the uncertainty of free agency this year."

• Spielman said Vikings officials planned to meet on Saturday night to set their college free agency board, then meet with coaches on Sunday to discuss their plans -- whenever those plans need to be put in motion. And then? "I'm going to try and play golf this week if I can," Spielman said, smiling.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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