Ponder Poised To Show Improvement Saturday Night

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 18, 2011 – 3:22 pm

First-round pick Christian Ponder was the third QB to enter the game for the Vikings last week in the team’s preseason opener. But on Saturday night in Seattle, Ponder will be #2 in the rotation.

Against the Titans last Saturday, Ponder entered the contest midway through the 3rd quarter and finished the game. He was 8 of 13 for 84 yards with no TDs and no INTs. A pretty good showing for your first NFL action. One area to clean up, though, is avoiding pressure. Ponder was sacked three times in Tennessee.

“There were some times when I could get the ball out faster or try to get out of the pocket a little faster,” Ponder said. “Ultimately it’s on me to get it done. I’ve got to react to what’s going on and be a quarterback and make decisions.”

That response came to a question that intimated his pass protection was such that there wasn’t much he could do to avoid being sacked. But, as a leader and QB should do, Ponder didn’t deflect blame anywhere else. He shouldered responsibility for the mistakes and vowed to improve.

“I’m letting pressure get to me. Just got to get the ball out and make decisions faster. But overall I thought it was okay,” Ponder said of his debut performance.

There’s no doubt Ponder has displayed improvement since last weekend’s preseason opener. He’s been crisp during four practices this week and has also performed well during blitz drills and situations where he’s asked to make audibles and/or checks at the line of scrimmage.

There’s also no doubt that at least a part of Ponder’s improvement during this past week can be attributed to the presence of veteran Donovan McNabb. The benefit of having McNabb around is two-fold; it gives the Vikings a chance to compete right now and it provides Ponder and second-year passer Joe Webb with an experienced veteran from which to learn. To date, the second part of that plan is unfolding.

“I think right now I’m getting better,” Ponder explained. “The good thing is I’m learning from him (McNabb), which is big for me…We’ve talked a lot about reads. We’ve watched film together. If I make a mistake, he’s right there in my ear helping me out.”

Ponder also explained that the learning curve is about what he expected for his rookie season and that things are beginning to slow down a touch for him. There’s a long way to go in Ponder’s development and he knows that. At this point, though, the Vikings should be pleased with how Ponder is working in practice.

“My number one goal is to do better than I did last week,” Ponder said. “I’m comfortable after going through last week and getting that experience under my belt and I think it’s going to be fun. I’m going to enjoy it. But I’ve got to learn from my mistakes last week and get better and make some more plays.”

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McNabb Cautiously Optimistic On Offense’s Progress

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 18, 2011 – 11:34 am

Some fans were quick to panic about the Vikings offense following a brief appearance by some of the first-teamers on Saturday night produced no points and little sign of explosion. But count the point man of the offense – QB Donovan McNabb – as one who is cautiously optimistic about the group’s progress.

“Yeah, we’re very excited where we’re at right now,” McNabb said. “But yet it’s still a work in progress. We made some big plays out here, running as well as throwing the ball. Communication-wise, I think the chemistry is flowing where we need it to be. But again, it’s just the beginning and we want to continue to get better each day.”

McNabb’s approach to the current status of the offense is professional, which shouldn’t be surprising considering this is his 13th season in the NFL. And he does have a point. Considering the starting QB just arrived fewer than three weeks ago and considering coordinator Bill Musgrave didn’t have the luxury of an offseason program, minicamps or Organized Team Activities (OTAs) to install his offense, the first-team offense didn’t look bad at all last Saturday night.

For the starting QB, the first preseason game is more about eliminating mental mistakes and perfecting fundamentals than it is about scoring points and accumulating statistics. To that end, McNabb was just fine last Saturday night. He was 6 of 11 for 40 yards with no TDs and no INTs. He completed his first three passes and four of his first five attempts. On McNabb’s first offensive series, the Vikings converted two third-down passes and drove from their own 7-yardline out to the 40.

McNabb came out for a second series and immediately hit WR Bernard Berrian on a quick slant. Then he lofted a touch pass to WR Greg Camarillo on 3rd and 3 to keep the drive going.

In the end, I came away encouraged with what I saw from McNabb and the first-team offense. Two of McNabb’s incompletions could’ve been caught, none of his passes were near-INTs and he used his athleticism to get out of the pocket to buy time. These are all good signs in the first preseason game.

An area to watch this weekend is the offensive line. There’s a new starter at LT, starting C John Sullivan is coming back from injury and there’s a good battle underneath Anthony Herrera at RG.

“The chemistry and the communication [are] definitely there,” McNabb said. “Myself and Sully, as well as Hutch and Herrera, just in the interior have really been communicating and seeing things the same. And obviously when you do that, your communication expands outside to the tackles and we’ll all be on the same page. I’m excited about what we’ve been able to do since everybody’s been able to practice, the way that we’ve continued to improve.

“Obviously this is Week-2-and-a-half for me, so I’m excited to see the progression that we’ve made and excited about what we’ve been able to do on the outside with the receivers and our running game. Again, there’s a lot of things we’ve got to clear up, but yet and still just looking at it, we’ve done some good things.”

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CB Cedric Griffin May Get A Look On Saturday; Harvin Update

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 18, 2011 – 6:17 am

The Vikings had a “good, spirited” practice on Wednesday at Winter Park, according to Head Coach Leslie Frazier. The team worked out in full pads and under ideal conditions as they continue preparations for this Saturday’s preseason game in Seattle.

Frazier pointed out that Wednesday’s practice included periods where the team worked in backed-up, two-minute, goal line and short-yardage situations.

But right now the main issues for the Vikings revolve around some minor injuries and how playing time for the second preseason game will be distributed. Several players have missed a practice or two this week coming off of last weekend’s preseason opener, but the good news is the team isn’t dealing with any major injuries.

“The further you get along,” Frazier said of training camp, “you’re going to have some bumps and bruises and fortunately for us, we haven’t had any major issues. There’s nothing more than muscle pulls or strains and you’ll get through those in time.”

The highest-profile player to miss time so far has been WR Percy Harvin, who has a mild rib injury and has missed most of practice over the past two days. Frazier indicated that Harvin is fine but that the team is being careful. In fact, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Harvin was held out of Saturday’s game to ensure that he fully heals. His role on the team is pretty well-defined, so it might actually be more beneficial to have him sit than to have him play, largely so the coaching staff can get a look at other players behind Harvin on the depth chart.

A guy who has looked great in training camp but who didn’t make it onto the field last weekend is CB Cedric Griffin. He’s coming back from a knee injury that ended his 2010 season early and it sounds like he might get on the field for a few minutes on Saturday night in Seattle.

“At least a series,” Frazier said when asked how much Griffin might play on Saturday. “That’s where we’re thinking right now. We’ll see how he does tomorrow (Thursday) in practice, how he finishes and if he finishes fine we may try to get him a series.”

As questionable as the secondary looked last weekend, keep in mind that the team’s two best CBs (Griffin and Antoine Winfield) didn’t play. It seems only fair that Griffin and Winfield be allowed on the field before an iron-clad judgment can be cast on the progress of the secondary from the end of last season to the beginning of this season.

Speaking of the Vikings secondary, there’s another guy who didn’t get on the field last weekend but who has been having a superb camp. It’s rookie S Mistral Raymond, and he was held out last weekend because he tweaked his hamstring on the final play of the Mankato version of training camp.

Raymond is an impressive-looking athlete at the safety position. He has good size (6-1, 194 pounds) but also has the agility, quickness and speed you look for in a starting NFL DB. Raymond actually played some CB in college, so it’ll be interesting to see if he has the combination of aggressiveness and coverage ability you look for in an NFL safety.

“He’s a guy we’re anxious to take a look at in a game situation but we feel pretty good about his athleticism and how well he’s picked up things on defense,” Frazier said of Raymond. “Now it’s a matter of how he plays against other opponents but we’re looking forward to watching him play.”

Vikings fans should be, too. With questionable play at times over the last couple of seasons at safety, Raymond is one of a few players with an eye on a starting job in the Vikings secondary. The competition at safety, specifically, is thick and I think it will yield positive results for the Vikings defense.

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