Notebook: Ponder has 'no reason' to look over shoulder, Frazier says
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Christian Ponder is still confident he can be the Minnesota Vikings' franchise quarterback, despite a lack of commitment from the organization in his third season.
Complicated by Josh Freeman's midseason signing, Ponder's status remains the starter, at least for Thursday night's game against the Washington Redskins. Coach Leslie Frazier said Ponder is not in danger of an in-game switch.
"Well, Christian knows from me that we want him to succeed," Frazier said. "He has no reason to look over his shoulder and say: 'if this happens, [something] negative like an interception on Sunday you're going to be pulled, or sack-fumble in the end zone you're going to be pulled.' He doesn't have to worry about that. He has to worry about playing well. That's all he has to worry about."
Ponder had both the sack-fumble and interception Frazier was referring to in Sunday's loss at the Dallas Cowboys. However, in Ponder's fifth start, the offense regained some momentum behind running back Adrian Peterson's 25 carries and 140 rushing yards.
"[Ponder] seemed more confident and relaxed. The way he handled our no-huddle was great to see. And the way he bounced back after that turnover in the end zone for a touchdown," Frazier said. "He helped get us in a position to take the lead in the ball game. He stayed composed. There were some positive things: the way he got out of trouble in the pocket. I sensed that during the week of practice. He seemed more relaxed and I sensed that."
In his third season, Ponder has not taken the necessary step forward in a modern NFL that demands results and quick turnarounds. Sure, he's rushed 24 times for 143 yards and four touchdowns.
Meanwhile, receiver Greg Jennings is collecting his guaranteed $2.9 million this season, on top of a $10 million signing bonus in May when he was added to improve the downfield passing game.
Jennings has 31 receptions, 392 yards and two touchdowns on the season. With Ponder under center, Jennings has 18 catches, 225 yards and no touchdowns in five games.
"But again, my future right now is this game and hopefully once I have a good game Thursday, that will play out itself," Ponder said. "I understand that we have eight games left in this regular season to do so."
There's no guarantee Ponder has eight games left to prove his worth as a franchise quarterback. What Ponder is guaranteed is a start against a Washington Redskins' defense that allows 282 passing yards per game (28th) and has allowed 17 passing touchdowns. Only the Vikings (18) and Buffalo Bills (20) have allowed more scores through the air.
Frazier has made no commitment to any of his quarterbacks outside of the week's game, but the longer Freeman waits, the longer it's assumed he's more comfortable and ready.
With Freeman on deck, Ponder said he's still confident he'll be the Vikings' quarterback of the future.
"I don't focus on it. It's been great to have Josh [Freeman] in the room. He's a good guy to be around. He's another guy that brings a lot of knowledge to the game and it only helps me out. I understand it's a competition, and it's been a competition all year with Matt [Cassel] being here," Ponder said. "So, I'm not worried about it. I'm focused on increasing my play. I'm competitive against myself as much as those guys."
"I understand I've got to keep getting better. I want to make sure that everyone's confident that I'm the guy out there that needs to be playing."
RGIII in purple?
Redskins quarterback Robert Griffen III spoke with local media via conference call on Tuesday and said he was told that the Vikings would've selected him third overall in 2012 had he fallen just one spot farther.
Griffen won the 2011 Heisman Trophy in his final year at Baylor University and won the 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
"I didn't have any contact with the Vikings before the draft, although I was told not to rule anything out. Not by anybody in their front office or head coach, but obviously I know Adrian," Griffen said. "Specifically I was told by a few people on the outside that had I fallen to No. 3, that they weren't going to leave me on the board. But nothing as far as them looking to move up. Just if I was there, they were going to take me."
Griffen and running back Adrian Peterson have the same agent, Jimmy Sexton, and Griffen said both discussed playing with one another.
"But this isn't basketball, this isn't free agency," Griffen said. "We can't control that."
Had the Vikings not beaten the Washington Redskins on Dec. 24, 2011, they would've owned the tiebreaker over the St. Louis Rams for the No. 2 overall pick and could've possibly drafted Griffen. That following April, they instead got the Cleveland Browns to swap a fourth, fifth and seventh-round pick to the Vikings to move up one spot and grab running back Trent Richardson.
The Vikings were able to draft receiver Jarius Wright and safety Robert Blanton with the picks, as well as have the flexibility to trade their own fourth-round pick and move back into the first round to grab safety Harrison Smith.
Raymond, Sendejo to start
Defensive coordinator Alan Williams confirmed that safeties Andrew Sendejo and Mistral Raymond will start on Thursday. Both started Sunday's loss at the Dallas Cowboys.
Raymond, who missed a couple of tackles on Sunday, will continue to swap snaps with safety Robert Blanton, the only other healthy safety on the 53-man roster with Harrison Smith and Jamarca Sanford out.
"[Raymond] didn't play a whole bunch of preseason, so he's still getting his feet up underneath him, so he knows he's been working on it, and each week he continues to get better," Williams said. "I don't know if there's an easy solution to that, other than making sure he closes the distance a little bit more and doesn't shoot his gun so early."
Blanton saw his first extended action on defense this season with Sanford sitting out on Sunday.
"[Blanton] is coming along, and I think coming along in a good way and a big way, so he'll continue to get reps, and we'll continue to evaluate guys as they play, as we do every position," Williams said. "It just so happens that they played two series at a time, and some of the times that Blanton played, there were some three-and-outs, so his reps may not have been as much as Mistral's."