5 Reasons Vikings Fans Should Be Optimistic About Christian Ponder in 2012

Andrew Garda@andrew_gardaFeatured ColumnistMay 23, 2012

5 Reasons Vikings Fans Should Be Optimistic About Christian Ponder in 2012

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    It's been an  exhausting offseason for Vikings fans. Stadium Bills caught in political struggles, stud running backs on the injured reserve, other teams in the division getting even better—it hasn't been easy.

    Well, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and for once it doesn't belong to a train, and friends, you are not Wile E Coyote.

    You have a stadium, Peterson is running and folks—Christian Ponder has another year under his belt and this year is going to be a big step forward for him.

    Don't believe me? Think he struggled too much last season?

    Well, read on and I'll give you five reasons why you can be optimistic about Christian Ponder this season.

    Ponder feels confident—you should too.

More Protection, Better Time in the Pocket

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    While the Vikings' offensive line did a better job than some gave them credit for, they still allowed the sixth most sacks in the NFL (49). They were middle of the pack in quarterback hits, ranked 16th and allowing their signal callers to get hit 76 times.

    Ponder got banged up and had to play that way for the season.

    He was also under pressure a ton, something you'd like to avoid with a rookie quarterback if you can. The feeling was, pre-2011 McNabb disaster, that Ponder would be best served to sit for a year.

    That was not to be. The Vikings had to put him in, but the line he was behind was not the best situation. Trying to read the defense and check down while under pressure was too much for him—a fact he admits to.

    "A lot of time last year, it didn't necessarily have to do with the protection. A lot of times I wasn't comfortable getting to my third, fourth reads, checking the ball down. Instead of just checking it down when a guy is wide open, I'd just run.

    "That's something I have to get away from. It's easy to break the habit. It's just going to make it so much better having full confidence in the protection. Offensive line is looking good. They got stacked up pretty quickly and they've got a lot of depth now. I'm excited about that as a quarterback."

    Getting Kalil will be a huge help as his presence at left tackle will allow Charlie Johnson to shift to left guard—locking the blind side down. With John Sullivan at center, this line will be a lot better than it played in 2011.

    That bold part—about increased confidence in his protection—will show immediately in his play. I will bet that watching the first few games will show us a quarterback who is comfortable in his reads and choosing his target because he knows that he has a line that's got his back.

    There will be rough spots—there always are—but the improved offensive line is going to help him immensely.

New Weapons

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    So, the Vikings got Ponder some more time in the pocket—and then they got him some weapons to use it on.

    First they signed former Bengal Jerome Simpson. Simpson is suspended for the beginning of the 2012 season, but should step right in when he gets back. He finally broke out in 2011, showing off the hands and speed which got him drafted in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft.

    They also signed John Carlson, formerly of the Seattle Seahawks. Carlson had success early in his career, but as the Seahawk line broke down, he was held in to block more and more. It remains to be seen if he can return to form, but he'll get the chance.

    They also drafted a pair of receivers from Arkansas, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs. Childs is a big target who fell in part due to an injury he suffered his senior year. He should quickly find a role as a red zone monster for Ponder. Wright's a bit short, but incredibly fast and can stretch the field effectively.

    It will be interesting to see how quickly the team involves the rookies but with Simpson suspended and Michael Jenkins often hurt, it's likely they will see a lot of work early on.

    Oh, there's also some guy named Percy Harvin who might be pretty good.

    Ponder has the time, and now it appears he will have the weapons.

Peterson Is Back (almost)

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    While it came late in the season, it never helps when a young quarterback loses his best player.

    With Adrian Peterson on the field, no defense can truly commit to stopping the pass all the time. They commit to stopping Peterson and hoping Ponder can't beat them in the air.

    With another year under his belt, a better offensive line and more weapons, that hope is misplaced.

    Peterson just started running, and until he puts on the pads and takes a hit we don't know how he'll hold up.

    It looks like he's doing very well now, though, running and beating teammates in wind sprints. Maybe I should stop with the Hulk Photoshop and add his head to Captain America.

    I don't know what he eats for breakfast but I want some of that.

    Maybe he makes it in Week One, maybe it's a little longer. He'll be back though, and it looks as though he will be pretty close to full AP.

    Having him in the backfield healthy and 100 percent is a tremendous advantage for Ponder and will make it that much easier for him to succeed.

First Full Offseason, OTAs, Training Camp and No Lockout

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    Very few positions were hurt by the lockout more than the rookie quarterbacks. While Cam Newton was unreal and Andy Dalton did well until he fell apart near the end of the season, most of the first year quarterbacks struggled when they saw the field.

    Jake Locker was OK, Blaine Gabbert was a complete mess and Colin Kaepernick never even saw the field.

    Ponder was meant to sit for a year but once Donovan McNabb imploded, he was thrown into the fire.

    Bad enough for a young quarterback—any inexperienced youngster, not just a rookie—to be thrown into the fire after never getting first team snaps.

    Just about impossible when there were none of the usual preseason events which help cushion a rookie's decent into the NFL.

    Ponder jumped into the starter spot after having little Training Camp, no OTAs, no minicamps, no rookie camps.

    It may seem like a small thing, but those days are critical in getting a player started on the very difficult process of learning NFL-level offensive and defensive plays. They also help prepare a player with conditioning and other important aspects if life as a Pro.

    This year, Ponder is getting the full treatment, and can approach it with the eyes of a somewhat experienced veteran. He knows his weaknesses and can use the time to eradicate them, or at least reduce them.

    I'm a big proponent of most quarterbacks sitting their first year but the fact that he's gotten a lot of his firsts out of the way—first hit, first sack, first pick, first touchdown—means he can concentrate on just playing.

    There is almost no other factor which should contribute to your optimism more than this one. You may not think it's vital but I assure you, it is.

    There is one thing, sort of attached to this, which is even more cause for joy and will make camp even more effective....

Ponder Is QB1 from Day 1

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    Ponder is the undisputed No. 1 from the moment he arrives at the facility.

    There is nobody vying for his job, nobody taking snaps, nobody serving as a distraction.

    The coaches will spend all their time getting him better. His teammates and he have all summer to get their timing down and tweak plays. Ponder has all summer to study film, study the playbook and generally establish himself as a leader in the clubhouse.

    A starting quarterback, no matter who, gets a certain level of respect due to his position. It's critical for a new quarterback to establish his strength and leadership ability as soon as possible.

    It is awfully hard to do that midseason when you are also learning on the job.

    If Ponder is to be successful, he needs the team to believe in him. He can create that this summer.

    Just being able to be "the guy" will make his season that much better. As I mentioned a minute ago, getting reps with his receivers is huge—timing is everything for an offense and the quarterback has to get on the same page as his receivers and visa versa.

    That's why I say this is coupled with the previous slide. Having training camp is huge as it allows Ponder to be the lead quarterback and forge his identity.

    That, as much as anything else, will contribute to his success in 2012.