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Ponder Continues Progression During OTA #2

Posted by Mike Wobschall on May 30, 2012 – 1:46 pm

Vikings QB Christian Ponder will enter just his second season in 2012 and right now he’s going through his first offseason program in the NFL due to the lockout that kept players away from facilities last year. That, combined with the natural disadvantages offenses face this early in the installation process, makes it no surprise that Ponder is finding adversity at times during OTAs.

It happens to every young NFL QB. Facing adversity is not the issue, though. It’s how the QB handles that adversity and how the QB bounces back from it that matters most. In that respect, the Vikings are in good shape with Ponder at the helm.

 “Today was a good starting point,” Ponder said after OTA #1. “A little rusty. I think guys were a little nervous. But a starting point.

“I’m a pretty big self-critic. I’ll probably go in and get upset at myself. There were some positives. No turnovers, which is a good thing and something I need to improve upon. Our main goal an offense right now is to get better on first and second down. And I’m going to see a lot of stuff on film that I’m going to get mad at myself, but I need to realize this is a starting point and we have nine more of these (OTAs).”

As of now, the Vikings have eight more OTAs because the team conducted OTA #2 on Wednesday afternoon. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said Wednesday marked improvement for the entire squad from Tuesday’s work, and Ponder acknowledged that he saw improvement from the offense on Wednesday as well.

“I thought today was a lot better than yesterday,” Ponder said during his post-practice press conference. “Yesterday was an okay starting point for everybody. The defense kind of got the better of us yesterday, but today I think the offense came back and played a lot better. Overall I think I’ve progressed a lot the past two days. I think the whole offense has done a lot better.”

One moment that illustrated Ponder’s progression so far during OTAs came about midway through Wednesday’s practice during 7-on-7 work. On the first play of the period, Ponder lofted a pass deep down the left sideline for WR Devin Aromashodu, but CB Chris Cook made an exceptional play on the ball and grabbed the INT. 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. The pass was perfectly timed and was the proper read. 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 deep crossing route.

There is still work to be done for Ponder and the Vikings offense, and they will be the first to acknowledge that. But given Ponder’s football acumen and attitude, that work will be done quickly and it will be done well.


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Antoine Winfield, WR Bryan Walters Impress During OTA #1; Other Observations

Posted by Mike Wobschall on May 29, 2012 – 1:39 pm

The Vikings held their first Organized Team Activity (OTA) of the 2012 offseason program on Tuesday, working for roughly 90 minutes on the outdoor practice fields at Winter Park under mostly cloudy skies and windy conditions. The energy level is ramped up around the facility as the team begins Phase 3 of the offseason program.

Now is not the time to put much stock into depth charts and tracking which players are working with the first-stringers and which players are working with the second-stringers. Coaches experiment with several different combinations for a variety of reasons at this point in the offseason, so we’ll let others worry about all of those projections.

There were plenty of other observations to make, however. Here are a few notes I scribbled out while watching Tuesday’s practice…

– One of the first players to stand out in my eyes was CB Antoine Winfield. It was great to see him back on the field after he played in just 5 games last season. Winfield showed no signs of being slowed now, though, as he looked spry during individual drills and very sound during team offense vs. team defense. Winfield had a bounce in his step around the facility before and after practice, and it’s clear he still has explosion in his legs while on the field.

– QB Christian Ponder was sharp early in practice, displaying accuracy and command during the individual and group installation periods. He spread the ball around to several receivers, encountered no QB-center exchange issues with C John Sullivan and even found WR Jerome Simpson on a deep pass. After working through some issues midway through practice, Ponder bounced back nicely at the end of the 7-on-7 drill to cap a solid first practice.

– Speaking of Simpson, it’s a treat to watch him chase down a deep pass. There are times when the QB takes a short drop and launches a pass downfield that looks to be grossly overthrown. But Simpson usually finds a way to track the ball down and make a play on it. You can see that Ponder already has trust in Simpson’s ability to make plays downfield, and that trust and play-making potential will only grow the more they practice together.

Click here to check out a photo gallery from OTA #1.

– A group of collegiate officials were at Tuesday’s practice and will be officiating OTAs for the Vikings.

– My sense is LB Erin Henderson is poised for a breakout season. He now has one year as a full-time starter under his belt and I think he’ll only improve with another offseason of work at Winter Park before his second year as a full-time starter. Henderson is a player who seems to be around the ball a lot, and I’m hopeful he’ll make the improvement from a player who is around the ball a lot, to a player who makes big plays around the ball frequently.

– The Vikings WR position will be a fun one to watch this offseason, training camp and preseason. There are currently 11 WRs on the roster, and I’m guessing there will be some tough cuts later this summer. Bryan Walters, acquired by the Vikings earlier this offseason, impressed me on Tuesday. At 6-0, 190-pounds, Walters is a diminutive receiver with sure hands and crisp route-running abilities. As well as he could perform at WR, I’m also curious to see if he’ll be in the punt return rotation because that would increase his stock. He’ll be a player to watch this summer as the team prepares for the 2012 season. Walters is a 2-year veteran out of Cornell.

– There has never been a doubt in my mind that RB Toby Gerhart could shoulder the load full-time for an NFL team, and after seeing him on Tuesday that continues to be the case. Whether he has to do just that with the Vikings remains to be seen, but if he is charged with that responsibility the Vikings will still be in good shape. Gerhart looks very fit, and I can say with certainty that I would not like to be the one trying to break down and tackle him as he runs downhill.

– Another spot that is sure to see good competition this offseason for a starting position is DT next to Kevin Williams. Williams has been missing a solid, consistent running mate since the other half of the Williams Wall – Pat Williams – was no longer with the team. Time will tell which players the coaches tab to compete for that spot, but I don’t think there will be a shortage of candidates. Vikings GM Rick Spielman and his scouting staff have done a nice job of acquiring players to try and fill that gap. Both Letroy Guion and Fred Evans were brought back and could be candidates. And from the looks of it, several others, including 7th-round pick Trevor Guyton (6-3, 280 pounds), Tydreke Powell (6-3, 325) and Terrell Resonno (6-3, 305) will be in the mix. I left DTs Chase Baker and Christian Ballard off that list only because I could see them playing at Kevin Williams’ spot in a reserve role, but the Vikings coaching staff could certainly ask either of them to step into the competition as well.

Quick Hitters
– WR Devin Aromashodu was hot during 7-on-7 drills and was a favorite target of young QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson.
— RB Jordan Todman, preparing for his 2nd season out of Connecticut and acquired by the Vikings late last year after spending much of his rookie season with San Diego, is impressively fast. He burst through a hole during team offense vs. team defense drills today and his explosion was remarkable.
— I saw LB Larry Dean around the ball a lot on Tuesday.
— Rookie LB Corey Paredes made one of the best defensive plays on Tuesday, nabbing a Joe Webb pass out of thin air and returning it for a TD.


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Fan Email: Is Jabar Gaffney A Good Fit For Vikings?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on May 3, 2012 – 6:30 am

Whenever a recognizable name becomes available, whether it is via trade rumors or free agency – the first thing that comes to mind for many fans and football observers is, “Is he a good fit here?” And so, with the Washington Redskins releasing WR Jabar Gaffney earlier this week, I’ve received several emails from fans asking if the Vikings would be a good match for his services.

It appears the answer is no.

As they do with every player who becomes available, the Vikings will likely discuss Gaffney’s availability and evaluate whether or not he’s a good fit here. It appears Gaffney has plenty of gas left in the tank. He may be 31 years old, but he’s coming off a season in which he recorded career highs in receptions (68) and receiving yards (947), and tied a career high with 5 TDs.

But I’m just not sure he’s a good fit here. The Vikings signed 4-year veteran Jerome Simpson last week, they have veterans Devin Aromashodu, Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins set to return, and they selected two WRs in the 4th round of last weekend’s draft (Greg Childs and Jarius Wright). That’s not to say any of those receivers are superior to Gaffney – they may be, they may not – but it does yield the conclusion that Minnesota may not be a great fit for Gaffney.

The other factor to keep in mind is that for a team and a player to join forces, there must be mutual interest. This is something many fans didn’t consider with regard to the Asante Samuel situation. Yes, the Atlanta Falcons acquired his services for a moderate price from the Philadelphia Eagles, but not every team had the same opportunity as Atlanta. Samuel identified Atlanta has a desirable destination, and he was therefore willing to talk turkey with them in terms of restructuring his contract.

Gaffney will now be in a similar situation. There will be a demand for his services, so Gaffney will choose his next team among multiple options. The smart money should be on the New England Patriots, the team for which he played from 2006-08, especially after ESPN’s Josina Anderson tweeted this. While there is a deep crop of WRs in New England, Gaffney will likely begin his next stint with the Patriots as one of the preferred pass-catchers given his familiarity with the organization and Tom Brady from his first stint with the team, as well as his familiarity with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels after their time together with the Denver Broncos from 2009-10.


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