2013 Is Put Up or Shut Up Time for Christian Ponder

Andrew Garda@andrew_gardaFeatured ColumnistMarch 22, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 30: Christian Ponder #7 of the Minnesota Vikings runs from Green Bay Packers defenders during the third quarter on December 30, 2012 at Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Vikings defeated the Packers 37-34. (Photo by Andy Clayton King/Getty Images)
Andy King/Getty Images

Two years in, that headline makes for a bold statement. Is it really that pivotal a year for Christian Ponder? Is this something the Minnesota Vikings have to decide in 2013?

Absolutely. And if that seems unfair, welcome to football.

Ponder has been up and down in his time as a starter. This includes a tough 2011 when he took over before he was ready, followed by an up-and-down 2012 during which he played well at times and awfully at others.

Far too often, teams wait themselves into disaster with a high-pick quarterback. The front office went in high on a player and doesn't want to admit it missed—never is this more difficult for some teams to do than when assessing the quarterback position.

If you need an example, take a look at the New York Jets and Mark Sanchez—a scenario which follows Football Gameplan's Emory Hunt's problem with drafting an average quarterback (or at least a guy who turns out to be average):

We're seeing this pattern with Ponder as well.

In his rookie season, we talked about how he was thrown to the wolves too soon; he was just a rookie who was deprived of an offseason due to the 2011 NFL lockout.

This past year we've talked about the lack of weapons he had—just Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph—and how the team needed to do more to get him people to catch his throws.

Will this year end with Vikings fans saying "it's just going to take some time"?

It can't, because the window for any team closes super fast. Yes, this is a team rebuilding, but as we saw last year, it still has talent. While losing Percy Harvin is tough, adding Greg Jennings was a great move; Rudolph can bounce back; Jerome Simpson is healthy; and Jarius Wright showed flashes of great play last season.

And that's before the NFL draft, when they pick up at least one more receiver.

Add in Adrian Peterson—after a huge season and a year removed from his ACL/MCL injury—and you have a core offense in place to do well.

The defense has some issues, but it's also filled with some good players, and can more than get the job done and keep things close so that a good quarterback can bring a team back and win.

There's definitely hope. While Ponder's career completion percentage rose from 54 percent in 2011 to 62 percent in 2012. His interceptions went down from 13 in his rookie season to 12 last year, in which he played in five more games.

He made less errors overall—but he wasn't asked to do much the latter half of the season when Peterson's stats "Hulked out," and the mistakes he did make were often mind-numbingly bad.

More than anything else, he needs to cut down on the bad decisions, show he sees the field clearly, and give an indication that he knows when to force a throw and when to toss the ball out of bounds.

I'm not ready to write Ponder off, not close.

However, I've watched too many teams see the warning signs that a quarterback isn't cutting it and ignore them. Too many teams watch mediocre play from their first-round quarterback and say "well, it's going to get better."

The truth is, it might not get better, and if it doesn't—if Ponder can't correct some of the mistakes he made last season—the team will need to move on.

What can't happen is Vikings making a move to Hunt's stage three—we can't hear "it takes time" if he makes the same poor decisions and bad throws we saw too many of in year two.

Ponder has the support of his team and the tools to throw to.

Now he has to show us he has the talent.


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