Notebook: Packers rush will challenge Christian Ponder, ailing o-line
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- As he did in the preseason, Christian Ponder showed on Sunday night he has a natural ability to feel and escape pressure.
The Minnesota Vikings' rookie quarterback may need it in his first NFL start.
An offensive line that drew strong criticism from coach Leslie Frazier for its hand in allowing five sacks and 23 total pressures in Sunday's 39-10 loss at Chicago is beat up as it prepares to face the exotic Green Bay defense coordinated by Dom Capers.
"The guys who came in last week," left tackle Charlie Johnson said, "they fought, they played hard and that's the way it's going to be this week if our guys aren't able to go. We're going to band together as one and we're going to go out and get great effort."
The status of center John Sullivan (concussion) and right tackle Phil Loadholt (knee) is up in the air. Frazier said Johnson (triceps) and left guard Steve Hutchinson (knee) also were sore after Sunday's loss, in which four of veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb's last six snaps resulted in sacks -- two of them in a three-play span against Johnson.
"I think anytime you get down like that, it's going to be tough," Johnson said. "Starting out the game early, we weren't able to get the run going, and then once we got behind and their lead got bigger and bigger, we kind of become one-dimensional, and that's one of those things that you don't ever want. Anytime that you become one-dimensional, you're making it hard on yourself."
Ponder wasn't sacked but faced pressure on nine of 20 designed pass plays. He completed 9 of 17 passes (52.9%) for 99 yards and scrambled once for 8 yards, with two other plays wiped out by holding penalties on Hutchinson and Patrick Brown, who took over for Loadholt at right tackle after halftime.
The Bears didn't back off in terms of sending pressure. They blitzed six times in Ponder's first 13 snaps, forcing the rookie to adjust quickly.
"I actually threw a hot route, which was good, but to see that and to react to it is good," Ponder said. "We are going to get a lot more reps this practice with the blitz, and as you know, Green Bay will probably bring a lot of pressure. But I am definitely comfortable and confident."
Capers runs a base 3-4 defense but uses a wide variety of subpackages, including one- and two-man fronts in the nickel and dime defenses that have as many as five rushers on the move immediately before the snap.
That said, the Packers have been far from infallible defensively this season. They rank 31st in passing yards allowed -- at least in part because they've had so many leads that opponents have had to throw -- and are tied for 10th with 15 sacks.
"They've got an outstanding defense, one of the top defenses in the league," Frazier said. "He's going to see a lot of different looks, a lot of different pressures. We're going to try to prepare him and we think he will be prepared and we think he'll play well."
Support for the change?
Frazier hedged somewhat when asked if players backed the switch from McNabb to Ponder as the team tries to escape a 1-5 tailspin.
"Some may not agree, I don't know," Frazier said. "But I got the impression that the majority understand the direction we want to go and why we're doing it."
For the most part, that was the on-the-record sentiment of players available to reporters in the locker room as Frazier explained the decision at the podium.
"Coach Frazier's trying to win," receiver Michael Jenkins said. "That was his decision, and we're going to go out and do everything we can to still win ballgames."
Said Johnson, "It's one of those things where you get to this point in the season, and you're kind of looking for a spark or something to get you going. Obviously, Coach Frazier and the coaching staff felt like this was something that needed to be done to get us going. So, we're behind it, we're on board, Christian has all of our confidence and we're just going out and play and see what happens."
• Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, in town for ongoing stadium discussions at the state Capitol, made a rare midweek appearance at practice and visited with Frazier, Ponder and vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman afterward.
• The Seattle Seahawks signed former Vikings LB Heath Farwell, who was released at the end of training camp.
• How many tickets does Ponder need to secure for his NFL debut? "Not a lot," Ponder said, smiling. "It's been kind of a last-minute deal. I have a couple friends coming up and my dad is coming up, but I have a few fans out there."