Christian Ponder clicks with Kyle Rudolph, Vikings on camp's first day
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MANKATO, Minn. -- It was only one training camp practice, but consider it a good omen for Christian Ponder's chances of taking a step forward in his second NFL season.
The Vikings' starting quarterback looked sharp in completing 16 of 17 passes during team (11-on-11) drills on Friday afternoon -- a stark contrast from his erratic showings on these fields at Minnesota State University one year ago.
"It's a huge difference," Ponder said. "My first day last year compared to this was horrible. I didn't even get that many reps. This year, I got all the 'one' reps. I just feel so much more comfortable with my teammates, my surroundings, this offense -- it just has a completely different feel to it."
Like the rest of the Vikings' 2011 rookie class, Ponder missed out on offseason practices during the NFL lockout, making training camp his first experience in coordinator Bill Musgrave's offense. He took mostly second-string reps out of the gate behind Joe Webb, who worked as the starter because Donovan McNabb couldn't participate until the new collective-bargaining agreement was ratified.
There were audible groans from the stands as Ponder missed high to several receivers in that first practice of 2011. On Friday, his only miss was a corner he slightly overthrew to tight end Kyle Rudolph, who hauled in seven of Ponder's strikes -- including another corner throw between two defenders that drew one of the day's loudest cheers.
"Just the comfort level is night and day from this year to last year, having the offseason program," Rudolph said. "Coming in last year, you were learning everybody's name with faces, you're learning the playbook, you're learning your routine, and to have a training camp under your belt as well as an offseason, that definitely makes everything kind of seem second nature."
By comparison, Webb threw incomplete six times before finally connecting on a one-step route to receiver Kerry Taylor and finished the day 5-of-11. Third-string quarterback Sage Rosenfels was 6-for-8.
"We've built up a lot of chemistry," Ponder said. "I think we just click and (Rudolph) finds ways to get open. He's such a big target. I have a lot of confidence throwing to him. But I think this whole first day, a lot of guys got open, a lot of guys made plays. I thought it was a really good first day."