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Updated: August 26th, 2012 6:16pm
Notebook: Vikings want to make sure Christian Ponder is stepping up

Notebook: Vikings want to make sure Christian Ponder is stepping up

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Christian Ponder knows he can't take the types of sacks he did in Friday's exhibition loss to San Diego.

So do the Minnesota Vikings' offensive coaches, who on Sunday put their starting quarterback through drills designed to make sure he's stepping up in the pocket.

"That's something we kind of focused on (Sunday)," Ponder said, "doing some drills, hitting that last step in the drop, setting the depth and just moving forward.

"A couple of times, I tried to escape outward rather than moving forward, and that hurt me. Something easily correctable, though, and something that I've been in the habit of doing all camp until Friday."

Chargers linebacker Larry English beat rookie left tackle Matt Kalil outside for the first of five sacks against the Vikings' starters and might not have gotten home had Ponder stepped up.

Later, Jarrett Johnson got off tight end Kyle Rudolph late for a sack in 3.9 seconds; Melvin Ingram finished off a sack in 5.4 seconds as Ponder tried to buy time to get the ball downfield to Michael Jenkins off a bootleg; and end Kendall Reyes finished off another sack in 3.3 seconds on a deep play-action fake.

The only sack Ponder had little chance of avoiding came late in the first half, when linebacker Antwan Barnes caved the pocket inside against Kalil and got home in 2.3 seconds.

"I've just got to move up around the pocket and not just sit in the trouble zone, and that's where I was sitting," Ponder said. "It's on me, but it's easily correctable."

Check back in two weeks

Ponder used the word "correctable" two more times in a roughly 3-minute session with reporters -- emphasizing that he's not overly concerned by the Vikings' offensive struggles in an ugly 12-10 loss to the Chargers.

After getting into scoring position on their first five possessions of the preseason, the Vikings' starters produced only three points, 12 first downs and 158 yards in nine drives on Friday, turning over the ball three times.

"There are a number of things that we saw offensively that we want to work on across the board," coach Leslie Frazier said, "whether it's work with our offensive line, our wide receivers, our running backs and the quarterback position as well. There was a lot of work that we need to do."

Any improvement being now and the Sept. 9 opener against Jacksonville will have to come in practice, since backup quarterback Joe Webb is slated to start Thursday's exhibition opener and many starters are unlikely to see the field at all.

Asked how he felt about the Vikings' body of work since camp began, Ponder said, "Very good. First two weeks (in the preseason) obviously were really good. Even practice last week was really good. Obviously, we didn't do what we were supposed to do in the game.

"But everyone's a lot (more) comfortable with what we're doing, everyone's healthy. We've had a lot of positives and we've grown a lot and everything that we did again Friday is correctable. So, we'll be ready for Jacksonville."

Blanton's big chance

The Vikings planned to give fifth-round draft pick Robert Blanton a long look on Thursday, even before they suffered injuries against San Diego that had five defensive backs watching from the sideline during Sunday's practice.

The only difference now is Blanton -- who has yet to play in the preseason because of a hamstring injury he suffered in the first padded practice on July 30 -- may have to play the entire game.

"We do plan on starting him and playing him for quite awhile so we can properly evaluate him as well," Frazier said. "He's missed a lot of time."

Mistral Raymond (lower-back spasms) and Andrew Sendejo (right ankle sprain) won't play on Thursday, and a third safety, Eric Frampton is questionable because of a groin strain, although he practiced on Sunday.

Assuming the Vikings hold out first-round draft pick Harrison Smith, the only other safety available would be Jamarca Sanford, who has been competing with Raymond for a starting job.

The Vikings are expected to closely monitor the waiver wire as teams cut down to 75 players on Monday for players who might be able to help them get through the game.

"We're going to mix and match, whatever we've got to do to get through that game, and hopefully, we can get through it without any other injuries," Frazier said. "Fortunately, at this point, the injuries don't seem to be ones that should hinder the guys that are injured from playing in that first (regular-season) game."

Wide open

Frazier also raised the possibility of looking outside the building for a No. 3 halfback, saying none of the candidates who played extensively on Friday distinguished themselves.

Front-runner Lex Hilliard lost a fumble. So did Matt Asiata, who otherwise impressed with 48 yards on nine carries (5.3 average). Jordan Todman made his preseason debut after missing two games with a sprained ankle and will get a long look on Thursday.

"It's open competition," Frazier said. "You've got to keep your eyes on the guys that we have on our roster, but also looking to see what happens around the league. We'll see what happens on Thursday night.

"Hopefully, somebody will take the bull by horns and really separate themselves and say, 'OK, that's my position. That's my job on this football team.' But we'll see."

All the right moves

Friday's game easily was middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley's best since returning from the hip surgery that cost him last season and the groin strain he suffered in the offseason.

Brinkley sacked Chargers quarterback Charlie Whitehurst twice on blitzes -- the first in 2.2 seconds on a blown protection, the second in 3.0 seconds after Brian Robison got pressure. He hit Whitehurst one other time and was credited with four solo tackles.

"It's another step," Brinkley said. "I just had to get some games under my belt, and that was it. Being away from the game for a year, you don't see everything as clearly as you used to when you was on the field a lot. So, that was big. That was big for me."

Perhaps most impressive was one play that didn't show up in the box score. Early in the second quarter, Brinkley crashed between two Chargers linemen, forcing Le'Ron McClain to cut on a run play that went for 2 yards on first-and-20.

"One of (Brinkley's) strengths is being a downhill, in your face-type guy," Frazier said. "But to see him show the lateral quickness that he did and the change of direction that he did -- we hadn't seen that as instinctively early on. So, the fact that he was reacting and responding the way he did, it was good to see. You just feel much better about him today."

Taking it easy

Tight end John Carlson (knee), cornerback Chris Cook (concussion) and nose tackle Letroy Guion (knee) all returned to practice on Sunday but will be held out of Thursday's game, along with many other veteran contributors.

Guion's status in particular is worth monitoring since he's already had one setback. The posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee that was injured in the Aug. 10 preseason opener at San Francisco flared up in Tuesday's practice, sidelining him against the Chargers.

"When he had the little incident a week ago, just feel like we need to give him a little more time and keep bringing him along," Frazier said. "Hopefully, next week, when we start preparing for Jacksonville, he's able to go through everything that he has to go through to prepare for the game."

Schwartz progressing

Frazier said the Vikings have discussed keeping an extra offensive lineman when they cut down to 53 players on Friday because guard Geoff Schwartz has missed so much time.

Schwartz sat out last season following hip surgery and hasn't practiced since undergoing sports hernia surgery on Aug. 7 that cost him a chance to beat out Brandon Fusco for the job at right guad.

He received $150,000 in bonuses on the one-year deal he signed in March and probably will make the team, but it's unclear if the Vikings will be comfortable dressing him in Week 1.

"The fact that he was moving around (Sunday) as well as he was gives us some hope that next week he'll be able to practice," Frazier said. "But we'll just see how he progresses."

Quick hits

• After Webb, the Vikings plan to take long looks at Sage Rosenfels and McLeod Bethel-Thompson on Thursday, Frazier said. Rosenfels remains the favorite for the No. 3 quarterback job.

• Ponder took the blame for incompletions to WR Michael Jenkins on the Vikings' first two third downs against San Diego, even though one of the ball went through Jenkins' hands. "On both of those throws, I got it out pretty quick," Ponder said. "I've just got to take some off of it. When you're throwing anticipation routes like that, you've got to put a little touch on the ball. I think it was early in the game. I was a little pumped up and just let it go, so that's on me."

• Frazier was noncommittal when asked if Raymond would start the opener after missing the last two preseason games. "It's possible," Frazier said. "We'll see what happens with the guys that end up playing. But he did some good things when he did start. But we've still got to talk that through, whether or not he's going to be the starter when we line up against Jacksonville."

• Rookie Jarius Wright fielded two punts without incident on Friday, returning one for 24 yards, and he'll get more opportunities with Sherels sidelined against the Texans. "He had his moments in practice where we were bringing him along and hoping that he would continue to improve, and he has, and it showed up in the game," Frazier said. "He seemed very comfortable catching the ball."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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