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Updated: August 9th, 2012 2:23pm
Preview: Vikings get first chance to gauge Christian Ponder's progress

Preview: Vikings get first chance to gauge Christian Ponder's progress

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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Who: Minnesota Vikings (0-0) at San Francisco 49ers (0-0).
When: 8 p.m. Friday.
Where: Candlestick Park.
TV: WUCW (Channel 23).
Line: 49ers by 3.
Coaches: Vikings -- Leslie Frazier (2nd season, 6-16 in regular season). 49ers -- Jim Harbaugh (2nd season, 13-3 in regular season).
Series: The Vikings are 3-3 in the preseason against the 49ers and 21-22-1 in regular-season play.
Last meeting: Brett Favre completed a 32-yard touchdown pass to Greg Lewis with 2 seconds left in the fourth quarter to give the Vikings a memorable 27-24 victory over the 49ers in Week 3 of the 2009 season.
At stake: The battles for jobs intensifies as the Vikings get their first opportunity to play against another team. General manager Rick Spielman has plenty of decisions to make about his young roster and he should have a better idea of what he wants to do after this game.

Injury report

Vikings: S Robert Blanton (hamstring), TE John Carlson (knee), WR Kamar Jorden (hand), T DeMarcus Love (pectoral), RB Adrian Peterson (knee), G Geoff Schwartz (sports hernia surgery), CB Josh Robinson (hamstring) and RB Jordan Todman (ankle) are out.

49ers: WR Joe Hastings (leg), RB Jewel Hampton (foot) and LB Darius Fleming (knee) are out. WR Michael Crabtree (calf) and RB LaMichael James (illness) are expected to play.

Three things to watch

Something to Ponder: QB Christian Ponder and the first-team offense likely won't get much playing time on Friday, but the time Ponder does see is going to be important. The 12th overall pick in the 2011 draft, Ponder started the final 10 games last season for the Vikings and showed that he needed plenty of work, throwing 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Ponder went to work on his game after the season and has displayed improvement at times during training camp practices in Mankato. However, Ponder oversaw a feeble offensive performance during Monday's practice and then struggled Wednesday. On Friday, Ponder will get the opportunity to work against another opponent and show that he is a more poised and confident quarterback than the guy who finished last season overthinking things and getting beat up physically because of a lack of quality protection from his offensive line. It also will be worth seeing what type of in-game chemistry there is between Ponder and WR Jerome Simpson, who will be suspended for the first three games of the regular season but should be a vertical threat in this offense starting in Week 4.

On the defensive: Alan Williams was hired as the Vikings' defensive coordinator this offseason, and Friday will give him his first opportunity to see the defense in game action. While Williams is expected to continue to use the Tampa-2 scheme Frazier prefers, it's highly unlikely Williams will show too much, given that offenses and defenses attempt to remain extremely vanilla in the preseason. Among the most pressing questions for the first-team defense will be how it looks up the middle. NT Letroy Guion, a fifth-round pick in 2008, mostly has been a backup at the three-technique but now has been installed as the starting nose. MLB Jasper Brinkley, a fifth-round pick in 2009 who missed last season because of hip surgery, has taken over for E.J. Henderson. Can Brinkley handle the assignment in the Tampa-2? He also is competing with WLB Erin Henderson to remain on the field in the nickel defense. Finally, the safety positions are far from set. SS Mistral Raymond and FS Jamarca Sanford have been getting much of the work with the first team, but first-round pick Harrison Smith is expected to be a starter come the Sept. 9 regular-season opener against Jacksonville. The defense also will briefly go against WR Randy Moss, whose stint with the Vikings in 2010 ended with his release after only four games. Moss is attempting to return to the 49ers after a year away from the NFL.

The pressure is on: That's what the Vikings would hope, at least, when it comes to rookie PK Blair Walsh, the sixth-round pick out of Georgia. Walsh is the only kicker in camp and is 39-for-44 (88.6%) in team settings during practices. The Vikings have attempted to put Walsh in pressure situations in Mankato, but nothing is like having the actual pressure of kicking with the game on the line. The more pressure kicks the Vikings get Walsh to attempt in the preseason, the more they will learn about his mental makeup. The expectation is that Walsh, unlike Ryan Longwell, will be a touchback machine. What will he be like when attempting a kick with the clock winding down? The Vikings hope to soon find out.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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