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Updated: November 23rd, 2011 4:13pm
Notebook: Leslie Frazier calls for rookie QB to 'keep his head up'

Notebook: Leslie Frazier calls for rookie QB to 'keep his head up'

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Leslie Frazier was on his way home from Sunday's game when he decided it might be best to check on Christian Ponder.

The rookie had thrown three interceptions in a 27-21 loss to the Oakland Raiders and the Minnesota Vikings coach wanted to make sure his quarterback wasn't taking it too hard.

"Sunday immediately after the game it was a tough time for him and he was really down," Frazier said Wednesday. "I called him on my way home just to encourage him to keep his head up. He's going to win a lot of games for our football team and our organization in the years to come.

"Moments like these for a young quarterback, whether you're Peyton Manning or Eli Manning or Tom Brady, whoever it is, that's not unusual. It's how you respond to that adversity that will determine his long-term success. He's done a good job so far this week, and I think he'll do a good job on Sunday."

Ponder, who was making only his fourth start for the 2-8 Vikings, is 1-3 since taking over for Donovan McNabb. The three picks were the most Ponder has thrown in a game and in the past two games his passer ratings have been 52.3 in a loss at Green Bay and 59.0 on Sunday.

Ponder's struggles shouldn't be unexpected given that the Vikings simply aren't that good of team and all young quarterbacks go through rough times.

"I'm pretty hard on myself," said Ponder, who will get the start Sunday against Atlanta at the Georgia Dome. "I get pretty upset at myself, especially when it's a mental error that was easily avoided. Some of those turnovers, it was pretty easy to avoid. Just don't make a bad decision.

"At the same time, I know that there's a lot for me to learn and to grow and these are the things I learn from. But I think I'm my biggest critic for sure."

As for the call from Frazier, Ponder said: "He was just making sure I was OK. Making sure that I wasn't too hard on myself and said that these are the learning situations we'll go through, but we'll get a lot of wins together. So, it's just the start of something."

Surprise, surprise

Ponder was limited in practice Wednesday because of a knee injury suffered Sunday.

The injury was not disclosed until the report came out after practice, so Frazier and Ponder weren't available to comment.

An NFL source said Ponder's knee issue is not a concern and that he will be fine to play Sunday at Atlanta.

Last week, Ponder was listed on the injury report because of an issue with his non-throwing hand but he did not miss any time.

A zone team

Ponder said he expects to see a lot of zone defense from the Falcons and not as much man coverage as the Vikings had to go against the past two games.

"They're just not a man (coverage) team," Ponder said. "I expect them to bring a lot of pressure, which they've shown on film. But they still play a lot of zone behind it. We'll see. They might play some man, but we expect zone."

Ponder certainly has seen some big-time pressure the past two weeks, being sacked eight times total. The Raiders got to him five times on Sunday. Ponder has been sacked 14 times overall this season.

Despite the struggles by the offense, Ponder is attempting to remain optimistic.

"There's a lot of things that we can do better, especially me personally," he said. "I've got a lot of room to grow and I've learned a lot from the first few games that I've played. I need to show improvement and I will show improvement. I think it's important for us to close out with some positives and I think we can do that. ... There's a lot for us to still accomplish."

He knows their secrets

Bill Musgrave became the Vikings offensive coordinator last offseason after spending five seasons as the quarterbacks coach for the Falcons. Musgrave also served as the assistant head coach to Mike Smith last year.

This means Musgrave has extensive knowledge of the Falcons offense and can share plenty of information with Vikings defensive coordinator Fred Pagac.

"I know he and Fred have talked about what Atlanta does, why they do some of the things that they do and just trying to get inside of their offensive philosophy," Frazier said. "So we'll lean on him quite a bit as we put together a defensive game plan."

Musgrave was hired in large part because Frazier and the Vikings liked how the Falcons offense worked so this goes both ways. Atlanta should know much of what's coming from the Vikings.

"There are a lot of similarities, they'll understand a little bit of what we're doing and then it will come back to how well either team executes," Frazier said. "Who can out-execute whom on Sunday."

Familiar face

Wide receiver Michael Jenkins was taken 29th overall in the 2004 draft out of Ohio State by Atlanta and caught 276 passes for 3,512 yards and 20 touchdowns in 103 games with the franchise.

The Falcons let Jenkins go after the NFL lockout ended in late July in a salary-cap related move and the Vikings quickly signed him to a three-year contract.

"It'll be different," Jenkins said of returning to the Georgia Dome. "First time on the visitor's side. But I'm excited to get down there and get a win. That'll be the best feeling to have, going down there and leaving out of there with a win."

Jenkins, who is second on the Vikings with 36 catches for 441 yards and has a team-leading three touchdown receptions, doesn't know what type of response he will get from the fans.

"I tried to play hard and do everything I can and always make plays when the ball came my way," he said. "So, maybe get some boos, maybe get some cheers. I don't know."

Positive review

Cornerback Benny Sapp saw time in the nickel defense Sunday against Oakland, his first game back after rejoining the Vikings last week. Sapp was traded by the Vikings to Miami during the 2010 training camp for wide receiver Greg Camarillo.

"Benny did a good job for us considering the amount of time he's been away from our team," Frazier said, "to go in there and play the number of snaps that he did and be as effective as he was. It was really encouraging.

"The team we're playing plays some multiple wide receiver sets as well, so we expect his numbers to be up there. But his competitive nature, his competitive quickness and his athletic ability showed up on Sunday and we think he's going to be a good addition to what we're trying to do."

Ready for Ray

Defensive end Ray Edwards spent his first five seasons with the Vikings before signing a five-year, $30 million free-agent deal with Atlanta after the lockout. The contract reportedly guarantees Edwards $11 million.

The interest level in Edwards was surprisingly low considering he had 16.5 sacks with the Vikings playing opposite Jared Allen over his final two seasons in Minnesota.

Part of the reason why some teams passed on Edwards might have been because it turned out he underwent offseason knee surgery that limited him in the preseason. So far this season, he has only two sacks in 10 games.

It will be primarily the responsibility of Vikings right tackle Phil Loadholt to keep it that way Sunday.

"We practiced against each other every day for the past two years," Loadholt said. "So, I think it's definitely an advantage to the point where I've seen him day in and day out my first couple years in this league."

Quick hits

• With tight ends Visanthe Shiancoe (hamstring) and Kyle Rudolph (quadriceps) both missing practice Wednesday, Frazier said there is discussion of promoting Allen Reisner from the practice squad. "We're talking about that," Frazier said. "We'll see if either Kyle or Visanthe gets better as the week goes on. But Allen is definitely part of the conversation."

• The Vikings will have a brief practice on Thanksgiving Day because Frazier wants players to be able to spend time with their families. That is no different from past years when Brad Childress also brought his players in for a quick practice on the holiday.

• The Falcons had six players who did not take part in Wednesday's practice, including defensive end John Abraham (not injury related), tight end Tony Gonzalez (not injury related), cornerbacks Brent Grimes (knee) and Kelvin Hayden (toe), wide receiver Julio Jones (hamstring) and center Todd McClure (not injury related). Tackle Sam Baker (back), guard Justin Blalock (ankle), linebacker Curtis Lofton (ankle), safety William Moore (quadriceps) and defensive tackle Corey Peters (knee) were limited for the Falcons.

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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