Gabbert and Ponder Battle for Second-Year QB Supremacy, Who Will Win?
Both young men have looked the part of a legitimate NFL quarterback this preseason, and I have high hopes that both will turn into quality starters going forward.
Let's take a look at what they are working with and what both will be up against this Sunday.
Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings
Ponder had a better rookie season than Gabbert, but then again, he wasn't under nearly as much pressure. This year, Ponder should have even better protection, as the Vikings brought in Matt Kalil to protect his blind side.
The Vikings didn't do Ponder any favors in the 2012 NFL draft at the wide-receiver position. Jarius Wright, the team's fourth-round draft pick, is the fifth man on the team's depth chart. He hasn't done much to impress anyone this summer, and the team's other fourth-round pick at the receiver position, Greg Childs, was waived early in training camp.
As good as Percy Harvin is, the Vikings don't have another receiver to take pressure off him. Ponder will face the same problems that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith faced last year, when his only viable option on the outside was Michael Crabtree.
No matter how good a running game the Vikings may have, defenses will be able to contain their offense because there isn't enough talent on the outside.
Even if he plays, there's no chance the Vikings allow him to jump right back in and carry the load. He'll have a set amount of plays, according to Scout.com's Tim Yotter, and Toby Gerhart will be the main man behind Ponder.
The Jaguars' front seven are stout. They'll keep Gerhart contained for the most part, and Ponder will be forced to go to the air. The Jaguars' secondary is also solid; it's going to be a long day for Ponder and the Vikings on offense.
Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars
If we were basing our decision on what happened last year, there's no doubt that Ponder would easily win this battle. But Gabbert has shown vast improvement this summer, and he is set to surprise many people this season.
The addition of Justin Blackmon and the help he provides Gabbert can't be overstated. Blackmon missed a good chunk of training camp, but the two have developed a surprising amount of chemistry and timing in an extraordinarily short amount of time. They will be a dangerous duo in 2012.
The Jaguars' offensive line should be much improved this year, too. Gabbert was highly criticized for looking scared and panicky behind center last year, but it's hard to blame him. He was sacked 40 times, which was the third-highest sack total in the NFL (PFF).
Eugene Monroe, one of the best young tackles in the NFL, is fully healthy and he'll be protecting Gabbert's blind side. As good as he is, Jared Allen is sure to break him a few times, and Gabbert will need to make sure he doesn't sit in the pocket too long.
New offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski will keep things balanced to protect him from Allen and the Vikings' pass rush.
Rashad Jennings and Maurice Jones-Drew will be pounding the rock all game long, and the Vikings don't have a particularly good group in the middle to stop the run. The San Francisco 49ers exploited this weakness to perfection in the first preseason game, and the Jags will certainly take advantage.
The Vikings are not strong in the secondary, either. Harrison Smith, Chris Cook and Mistral Raymond will struggle to contain the speed and athleticism the Jaguars have at the wide-receiver position and at tight end with Marcedes Lewis.
The Jaguars have an edge when it comes to their offense versus the Vikings' defense, and Gabbert will have a breakout game.
Which 2nd-year QB will reign supreme?
The Jaguars will win this game, and Gabbert will outshine Ponder.
Ponder just doesn't have as complete a team surrounding him, and the fact that Peterson is still on the mend and isn't ready to carry the full load at running back will hurt the offense's chances to keep the Jaguars' defense on its toes.
Gabbert is going to prove right out of the gate in 2012 that his pathetic rookie campaign is behind him, and he's set to have a solid season as a sophomore.
Follow me on Twitter @Jesse Reed
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