What a difference a year can make. Last year at this time, Vikings QB Christian Ponder was preparing for his first NFL season away from Winter Park due to a lockout. Calling teammates he’d never met to organize workouts, working with coaches who wouldn’t be with him during the upcoming season and learning a playbook without the help of those who put it together.
A year later, the situation is much better. Ponder began preparations for his second NFL season by going through the Vikings nine-week offseason program and working closely with coaches and teammates.
By design, Ponder and the offense were a slow-go at first, struggling through OTA #1 with too many mistakes and not enough completions. But there was a quick bounce-back, and that’s key for a young QB looking to develop a long, successful career.
One moment that illustrated Ponder’s progression early in OTAs came during a 7-on-7 period. On the first play of the period, Ponder had a deep pass intercepted by CB Chris Cook. On the next play, Ponder dropped back and rifled a pass into the center of the field to hit WR Stephen Burton between two defenders. As Ponder jogged back to the huddle, Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave barked “Way to bounce right back!” Later in the 7-on-7 drill, Ponder found Burton once more on a perfectly-placed intermediate pass among three defenders to the right side and he finished the drill by finding a speedy Jerome Simpson running a dig route.
Ponder’s ability to learn from mistakes and respond to adversity has everyone at Winter Park optimistic about his future.
“I think his decision making has gotten a lot better,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said last Thursday. “Just seemed where he was a little frantic early on in OTAs, getting the ball out a little too soon or not recognizing things as quickly as we would like for him to. Now, things have kind of slowed down a little bit for him. He’s able to identify things in pre-snap a lot better, which is something we were all hoping for.
“We think as we give him more reps and keep throwing more things at him, he should get a little bit better in that area but the decision making is a key ingredient to being successful at quarterback and that’s an area we want him to get better and we’ve some improvement in these OTAs.”
Ponder agreed with his coach’s assessment that the offense made great strides during OTAs and minicamp.
“Just to see from day one of the OTAs to the third day of minicamp, we’ve progressed so much,” Ponder said after the team’s final minicamp practice. “It’s unbelievable, especially on the offensive side of the ball. You can tell everyone’s so much more comfortable and confident in what they’re doing, even myself.”
In addition to making improvements on how he operates the offense, Ponder also commented that he’s beginning to develop a rhythm with those who will catch his passes this season.
“I think we’ve built a ton of chemistry, especially with Jerome [Simpson], obviously with him being new,” Ponder explained. “I thought what we did together was really great and also with Jarius [Wright] and Greg Childs, those new guys. I think we’ve all learned a lot and I think, for me, picking up blitzes and learning how to do that and recognizing things a lot better. I think the game’s really slowed down in just these ten OTAs and three days of minicamp.”
Tags: Christian Ponder, Leslie Frazier
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The Vikings have enjoyed a wonderful community partnership with Special Olympics Minnesota (SOM) for many years. At this year’s SOM Summer Games, SOM recognized this partnership during its “Champions” Luncheon.
Dave Dorn, president of SOM, presented Vikings Executive Director of Community Relations Brad Madson with the “Champions” award.
“There is a unique bond between the Special Olympic athletes and our players,” stated Madson, who has worked with SOM for 15 years. “I’ve witnessed it firsthand. Sure the athletes enjoy interacting with our players, but our players not only relate to the athletes as competitors, but are also inspired through the sheer joy and determination the athletes demonstrate.”
After acknowledging the athletes, Madson saluted all of the 300 plus volunteers in attendance.
“Seeing an athlete light up when you place their medal around their neck provides all of the volunteers with such a warm feeling,” Madson said, “…and to cheer on an athlete striving to finish a race in such warm conditions, well, there isn’t a more rewarding experience and I thank you all for supporting such a terrific cause.”
A strong contingent of Vikings personnel attended the festivities, including: Lester Bagley, vice president of public affairs; Vikings legends Chuck Foreman, Everett Lindsay and John Turner; and current players Jerome Simpson and Blair Walsh.
Simpson and Walsh are no strangers to SOM, having been two of the “coaches” at the Vikings/SOM Punt, Pass and Kick clinic held on June 6 after one of the team’s offseason practices. This past winter, QB Christian Ponder participated in the SOM Polar Bear Plunge at Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis.
Also recognized as “Champions” at the luncheon were Fox 9 News and Vice President/General Manager Carol Rueppel as well as SOM athlete Danielle Liebl.
If you would like to volunteer or learn more about Special Olympics Minnesota, visit specialolympicsminnesota.org
Tags: Blair Walsh, Jerome Simpson
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