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Updated: June 5th, 2012 9:01pm
Zulgad's Roundup: Christian Ponder wants to take on leadership role

Zulgad's Roundup: Christian Ponder wants to take on leadership role

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Christian Ponder isn't only trying to improve his on-the-field performance this offseason. The Minnesota Vikings quarterback also is trying to make strides to become a better leader.

"I had a conversation with somebody about Brett Favre and how great of a leader he was because he knew every single one of those guys on the field," said Ponder, the 12th pick in the 2011 NFL draft. "I've kind of taken that to heart and trying to go out to dinner with Jerome Simpson and trying to get to know those younger guys and know my teammates. As a leader, I have to know those guys."

Ponder will have plenty of work to do to familiarize himself with his team's roster. With general manager Rick Spielman making plenty of changes after last season's 3-13 finish, Ponder finds himself surrounded by many new faces.

The two most important groups of players for Ponder to be close with are his offensive linemen and wide receivers. The latter group includes Simpson, who was signed to a one-year, $2 million contract as a free agent in late April.

Simpson, who could turn into a vertical threat in the Vikings' offense, had 50 catches for 725 yards and four touchdowns last season with the Cincinnati Bengals. Other new receivers on the roster include draft picks Greg Childs and Jarius Wright. Tight end John Carlson was signed as a free agent from Seattle.

"If they're going to follow me, if we're going to play close together as a team, we have to get closer off the field as well," Ponder said. "I really have taken that to heart. It's something I'm going to try and improve on and do the rest of the offseason."

Ponder's attempt to become more of a leader hasn't been lost on Vikings coach Leslie Frazier.

Asked how he has seen Ponder emerge in that area, Frazier said: "Just to see his confidence grow this offseason, to see him taking charge more in our meetings and now on the practice field. You need that from your quarterback because it kind of settles everybody else down when they feel like the quarterback is in charge and he's really beginning to show that. We need that.

"We think he's going to perform well, but we also need the leadership. We need other guys to be able to look to him and when things get a little crazy, to see him be able to settle people down and get things going in the right direction. We need that from that position and he's showing that."

Still on the market

Unrestricted free agency unofficially came to an end for 2012 last Friday, but several players who spent 2011 with the Vikings continue to look for work.

Still on the market are safety Husain Abdullah, linebacker Xavier Adibi, wide receiver Greg Camarillo, linebacker E.J. Henderson, long snapper Matt Katula, safety Jarrad Page, cornerback Benny Sapp and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.

You can add guard Anthony Herrera and kicker Ryan Longwell to that list, too. Both were released this spring. (Guard Steve Hutchinson was released but signed with the Tennessee Titans.)

Of the 16 players on the Vikings who were unrestricted free agents, only safety Tyrell Johnson has found employment elsewhere. He signed a one-year, $765,000 deal with the Miami Dolphins in April.

The Vikings did retain wide receiver Devin Aromashodu, nose tackle Fred Evans, defensive tackle Letroy Guion, linebacker Erin Henderson and quarterback Sage Rosenfels.

Tight end Jim Kleinsasser retired and offensive lineman Scott Kooistra suffered a serious neck injury during the 2011 preseason and is unlikely to play again.

Linebacker and special-teams ace Kenny Onatolu was non-tendered and signed a three-year, $2.175 million contract with the Carolina Panthers. Running back and return man Lorenzo Booker, who like Onatolu was due to become a restricted free agent, also was non-tendered. He has yet to sign with another team.

The end of the signing period means all players are now considered street free agents and subsequent signings won't be part of the calculation for compensatory picks. Since the Vikings only lost Johnson and signed Carlson, among others, they're unlikely to receive any extra picks in 2013.

Biggest surprise

The Vikings clearly have no interest in bringing back Shiancoe.

They signed Carlson to a five-year, $25 million that includes $9.1 million in guarantees and also have 2011 second-round pick Kyle Rudolph.

What is interesting is that Shiancoe is still on the market.

He hasn't missed a game in nine NFL seasons and while he had a disappointing first year with the Vikings in 2007, Shiancoe hasn't caught fewer than 36 passes since 2008.

Last year, Shiancoe finished with 36 receptions for 409 yards (11.4 yards) and three touchdowns.

Shiancoe, who will turn 32 on June 18, keeps himself in extremely good physical condition and certainly could be a productive pass-catching tight end in someone's offense. After Carlson left Seattle, there was some thought that Shiancoe might be headed to the Seahawks but that didn't happen.

Instead, Seattle made a trade with Tampa Bay to acquire Kellen Winslow last month.

Shiancoe will definitely end up signing with someone but it might be for less than he had expected.

Projected picks

The Timberwolves don't have a lottery pick in the June 28 NBA draft - that ended up going to the New Orleans Hornets and will be the 10th-overall selection - but they do have Utah's pick at No. 18.

In its mock draft, ESPN.com has the wolves taking Duke guard Austin Rivers.

ESPN's analysis says: "The Wolves' biggest need is at the 2 and Rivers could be a great get here. He can really shoot the basketball and has a killer crossover. He's going to have to get comfortable playing off the ball, but playing with Ricky Rubio could really help his game."

Yahoo! Sports, meanwhile, has Rivers going to Phoenix with the 13th pick and the Wolves taking Quincy Miller, a 6-9, 200-pound forward from Baylor. Both Rivers and Miller are 19.

The analysis by Yahoo! Sports reads: "After eight straight years of missing the playoffs, and with general manager David Kahn entering the final year of his contract, Minnesota will need to make some moves this summer to improve its roster and finally break its postseason drought.

"The Timberwolves are especially weak at the wing positions, where they could desperately use some additional scoring punch to take the heat off Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. Unless they end up reaching for an experienced perimeter shooting wing like Jeff Taylor, Darius Miller or Orlando Johnson, the Wolves might be best off drafting the best talent available - this case Quincy Miller - and trying to pursue help on the wing in trades and/or free agency."

Both ESPN and Yahoo! Sports predict the Hornets will use the 10th pick to take point guard Damian Lillard from Weber State.


End game

Pro Football Weekly's preseason publication has the Vikings finishing 4-12 and last in the NFC North behind Green Bay (12-4), Chicago (10-6) and Detroit (9-7). PFW picks the San Francisco 49ers to go 12-4 and beat New England in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. Lindy's preview, meanwhile, also picks the Vikings to finish last in the NFC North but that publication likes Houston to beat the 49ers in the Super Bowl.

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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