Notebook: Vikings move QBs coach to sideline to help Christian Ponder
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings made one subtle change in an attempt to help struggling quarterback Christian Ponder in Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions.
Quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson, who had spent the season working from the coaches' booth in the press box, was moved down to the sideline. This enabled Johnson to talk directly to Ponder instead of discussing things on a headset when the Vikings offense was on the sideline.
Vikings coach Leslie Fraizer said he thought Ponder and Johnson were both surprised when he approached them with the idea, but added that they also were pleased.
"I felt like it did make a difference," Frazier said. "Craig is the guy that talks with him throughout the week. He's always meeting with him, he's always giving him instructions in practice, he's always taking him through just about everything, along with (offensive coordinator) Bill (Musgrave's) input.
"But he spends so much time with Craig. I just said, 'Why not have his position coach on the field doing some of the same things he does during the week.' There's an argument to have that coach upstairs for another pair of eyes for the coordinator, but for where we were and where we are, we just wanted to take a look at this and I thought it did help us (Sunday)."
Ponder completed 24 of 32 passes for 221 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the Vikings' 34-24 victory. He also had a 114.2 passer rating, his highest since compiling a season-best 114.6 rating in Week 2 at Indianapolis.
After answering questions about Ponder's subpar play for three weeks, Frazier was happy to get the chance to praise his second-year quarterback as the Vikings enter their bye week.
Frazier said Ponder's awareness in the pocket Sunday "was big," but felt his success went beyond that.
"Just seeing him move around in the pocket and deliver the ball with so much conviction and go through his reads and not once (when) the guy had taken away his first read feel like, 'I have to take off,'" Frazier said. "But some of the throws ... this is what you want to see out of your quarterback.
"It just raises everybody else's confidence level. He took control of our offense, moved the ball around, got everybody involved and did a great job of leading us throughout the day. So his pocket presence and the decisions that he made with the football. He did a great job all day decision-making wise. No turnovers, just did a great job of leading us."
But Frazier said the plan all along going into Sunday's game was to get Ponder to look at all receivers. It also was clear that some of the changes included Musgrave making adjustments in his play calling.
"It was a real point of emphasis on our part, and even if Percy had been there, we had emphasized moving the ball around," Frazier said. "In this offense, that's important for us to have success. We felt like we had become a little stagnant and predictable in some ways. We needed Christian to understand the importance of moving (the ball) to different people because of what defenses are doing.
"So not so much because of Percy's absence, it was something we were emphasizing all throughout, and we're going to continue to emphasize it the rest of this season. But the fact that he was able to execute the game plan as well as he did, had a lot to do with our success as a team and as an offense (Sunday)."
The week off should do the Vikings plenty of good on the injury front.
Frazier said his team had no real injury issues coming out of Sunday's game and that there are "a lot of guys on the injury report that should be able to go next week."
That includes Harvin (ankle) and nose tackle Letroy Guion (turf toe), who both missed Sunday's game.
"We're optimistic," about Harvin, Frazier said. "We'll have to wait and see. He's getting better, but we'll know more probably a week from today. What it looks like as far as his practicing that following Wednesday."
Frazier said that Harvin was not in attendance at Sunday's game. Harvin and Guion are expected to remain in town and do rehab at the Vikings' facility.
The plan at safety
Mistral Raymond saw time at strong safety on Sunday after missing six games because of a partial dislocation of his right ankle suffered in Week 3 against San Francisco.
Raymond had opened the season as the starter at that spot but was replaced by Jamarca Sanford after getting injured. Sanford started Sunday before sharing time with Raymond.
So what's Frazier's plan for when the Vikings return from the bye?
"I'm not sure if we'll continue (a rotation), but we definitely want to bring Mistral along," Frazier said. "And the fact that he was able to get some time (Sunday) where he can get a little more confident about where he is with his foot and his ankle and also for us to see him on tape, that was a good sign.
"And now he'll have a full almost two weeks to really rest and heal and reflect back on what he did (Sunday). He'll be in line for more playing time. It's just a matter if we decide to put him back in the starting rotation."
Raymond said he didn't have any issues in his return. "(The ankle) held up real well, and I didn't have a single twitch or anything," he said. "It was good."
Doing the job
The Vikings knew that left tackle Matt Kalil could step in and do the job in pass protection when they made him the fourth-overall pick in last April's draft. But Kalil has proven that he can hold up in run blocking, too.
"He's grown leaps and bounds," Frazier said. "That's been one of the most impressive parts about him. We all knew that he was going to be an excellent pass protector based on what we saw in college and we felt like he would develop into a great run blocker as well.
"But he has improved every week in that area and he continues to get better. Some of the things he did down the field (Sunday) were as impressive as what he did on the line of scrimmage. That's a pretty good front that they have, pretty good defensive ends and he held his own in our first game against them and he did a very good job (Sunday) as well. You expect him just to continue to get better and better as he gains more confidence. But he's been very, very impressive."
The Vikings are using the off week to have a new artificial surface installed in their indoor practice facility at Winter Park. The new surface, UBU Sports' Speed Series S5-M synthetic turf system, is the same as what's in the Metrodome. The Bengals and Saints also use that turf.
Despite the fact Fred Evans did a good job starting in place of Guion, there won't be a change at nose tackle. Frazier said that Guion will be the starter when he's healthy. "We've had some good games with Letroy in there," Frazier said. "He's played well for us throughout the season. He got a little banged up. But once he's healthy, he'll be our starter."
Players were at Winter Park on Monday but now have the rest of the week off. They will return to the facility next Monday.