Zulgad: Christian Ponder knows offseason work will be 'huge' for him
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Christian Ponder is trying to make up for lost time this spring.
The Minnesota Vikings quarterback had the offseason before his rookie year wiped out by the NFL lockout, leaving him with nothing more than a playbook to study on his own after being the 12th pick in the draft.
That's not a good way for any player making the jump to the NFL to get started, much less a quarterback.
Perhaps that's why Ponder seemed so upbeat on Wednesday after the Vikings completed their second round of Organized Team Activities on Wednesday at Winter Park.
"It's huge for me," Ponder said of being able to work with his teammates and the coaching staff. "I obviously need as much work as I can get. The more time you put into it, the better it's going to be. I think not only for me, but for the whole offense."
Ponder spoke moments after throwing a bad interception near the end of the practice.
"You all probably saw the bone-headed mistake I had toward the end," Ponder said, unafraid to acknowledge the mistake. "I was trying to throw the ball away and didn't."
There is little doubt that Ponder "gets it."
He might be only 24-years old, but Ponder begins his press conferences with an opening statement like a coach would. He handles questions in a comfortable manner and, as evidenced above, isn't afraid to poke fun at himself after being a mistake.
All of that is great, but it doesn't diminish the fact that Ponder is going to need to prove that he "gets it" on the field, too.
That's where things get interesting.
There is little doubt that coming off a 3-13 season in which Ponder started 10 games, the Vikings are in the midst of a rebuilding project that could lead to another long season in 2012.
Yes, the Vikings drafted left tackle Matt Kalil to protect Ponder's blindside but there are still plenty of question marks surrounding coordinator Bill Musgrave's offense.
Will free-agent wide receiver Jerome Simpson prove to be the vertical threat Ponder lacked last season? Will tight ends Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson turn into two of Ponder's main targets? When will Adrian Peterson return from knee surgery and can Toby Gerhart establish himself as a top running back if Peterson isn't ready to go for the regular-season opener?
Ponder also has plenty to prove as far as his own performance.
Ponder looked shaky last summer in training camp as he took snaps behind then-starter Donovan McNabb. Some of that concern subsided when Ponder took over for McNabb during a mid-October loss at Chicago and went 1-1 in his first two NFL starts.
But Ponder threw three interceptions on two occasions in his final eight starts and ended the season with 13 interceptions and 13 touchdown passes. He completed 158 of 291 passes for 1,853 yards and was sacked 30 times.
While Ponder started the final 10 games, he did not finish all of them. He was unable to complete three of the final four games as he dealt with a concussion and a right hip injury that he aggravated in the regular-season finale against the Chicago Bears.
Ponder made it clear he has specific areas in which he wants to see improvement from himself and the offense.
"Number one, for me and the offense, is doing a lot better job on first and second down," Ponder said. "We want to be completing 75 percent of our passes on first down, and I think we were low 60s last year, around 63 percent. (Improvement) is going to help us so much on third down and eventually scoring percentage and points scored per game. That's important for me.
"I have to do a lot better job on that. I have to do a better job of moving around in the pocket and not taking off so early and getting a feel for the pocket and making better decisions."
Asked how he can have more success on first down, Ponder said: "Just smarter decisions. Not trying to force the ball downfield. I think if we have 'go' routes called, if it's not open, just have the patience to be able to check it down. I think it all comes back to patience and knowing your reads and finding the open guy. Football is not that hard of a game, just have to find the open guy and get the ball to him."
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier certainly agrees with his quarterback, but he also knows that Ponder's development is going to be something of a gradual process.
"You hope that in year two he's going to do a better job as far as making decisions with the football, where it should go, where it shouldn't go, and sometimes what you need to do in certain plays," Frazier said. "Whether to get out of a bad play.
"His decision making is something you'd like to see him take another step and we expect that in his second season and the leadership part of it. That's something we really need. We need it badly, and he's in a position where you want to see that happen at the quarterback position."