Notebook: Vikings' draft gave Christian Ponder 'a pretty big smile'
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"Both of us cracked a pretty big smile," Ponder said on Wednesday, six days after the Vikings selected Southern Cal left tackle Matt Kalil at No. 4 overall.
Kalil -- who will make his Vikings practice debut when rookie camp begins on Friday --is expected to start immediately at left tackle. That'll move Charlie Johnson to left guard, upgrading the protection unit if everything goes to plan.
And no one would benefit more from that than Ponder, whose struggles as a rookie were magnified by an increasing tendency to stare down the rush, rather than keeping his eyes downfield.
"It is huge," Ponder said. "A lot of time last year, it didn't necessarily have to do with the protection. A lot of times I wasn't comfortable getting to my third, fourth reads, checking the ball down. Instead of just checking it down when a guy is wide open, I'd just run.
"That's something I have to get away from. It's easy to break the habit. It's just going to make it so much better having full confidence in the protection. Offensive line is looking good. They got stacked up pretty quickly and they've got a lot of depth now. I'm excited about that as a quarterback."
Johnson said he had "no problem" with moving to guard -- a move offensive line coach Jeff Davidson began discussing in September.
"Like I told Coach Davidson, Coach (Leslie) Frazier, anybody who asked me about it, I just want to win," Johnson said. "Last year was not very good. I wasn't used to that and I don't want it to happen again. So, if they feel that this is the best thing to make our team better, then I'm all for it."
Johnson dismissed a question about whether he's better-suited to guard -- "My skill set is for playing football," he said -- but pointed out he spent time there during his days with the Indianapolis Colts.
"This has been something I've been dealing with since I got into the league, going on six years now," Johnson said. "It just happened to be the past couple of years I was at tackle. But the first couple years, it was wherever I was needed was where I would play. So I've dealt with it. It's not a problem."
A year ago, the NFL lockout wiped out all offseason practices. The collective-bargaining agreement that emerged from that work stoppage reduced offseason work going forward, with the Vikings' organized team activity practices scheduled to begin on May 29.
So, players can't do on-field work with coaches for several more weeks. But Ponder said he's been watching a lot of film, throwing with teammates after each conditioning session and brushing up on the playbook to get a head start before OTAs.
"We watched a lot of stuff from last year," Ponder said. "Just seeing myself on film, there's so much I can do better. I get so frustrated watching myself last year, watching myself escape from the pocket too early, making bad reads and doing pretty dumb stuff.
"You just watch that stuff and it gives me so much more confidence that I can be so much better next year. There's so much to learn from. It's just good to be with the coaches and see what they see and talk over things after being a couple months removed from the season."
All but four players are participating in the voluntary program that began last week. Strength and conditioning coach Tom Kanavy said it's the best start to an offseason program he's had since he came to the NFL in 1995.
"It's been really good and I think it's obviously a testament to the young guys," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "We obviously have gone really young, I'd say, in the last couple years just with the change. Obviously, it's a testament to those guys wanting to be in here, be hungry and do the right thing."
Initial discussions with new coordinator Alan Williams haven't yielded any indications the Vikings defense will undergo significant schematic changes, Greenway said.
Frazier hired Williams in January to replace Fred Pagac, who was demoted to his old role as linebackers coach after a season in which the Vikings finished 21st in total defense -- down from No. 8 in 2010 and their worst ranking in six years.
"We just had so many fundamental errors in what we do within our scheme," Greenway said. "Little things here or there, guys getting out of their gap, guys playing something different, miscommunication. There are more issues than just that, but you start with that and you work into the bigger issues."
Pagac will work this season alongside Mike Singletary, who was sole linebackers coach last season and also serves as assistant to the head coach. But Greenway said he expects Pagac to be in the lead role.
"He's going to be the one that has, I'm guessing, final say on what's going on schematically," Greenway said. "But they are on the same page. They are in this together, to get us better, and we're lucky to have both of them."
Halfback Toby Gerhart said he never really considered having surgery on the medial collateral ligament he tore in the Jan. 1 season finale.
"They wanted to give it a month to six weeks to heal and see how it went from there," Gerhart said. "It healed down nicely, bound down nicely, and really no pain, so there's no reason to go in there yet."
Linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who missed all of last season following hip surgery, said he is "back totally, 100 percent. Ready to go. Any drill that Coach may think of, I can do it. I can do it to the best ability of anybody. If Chad can do it, I can do it."