The Minnesota Vikings improved greatly in 2012. The team went from a 3-13 mark in 2011 to a 10-6 record and wild-card playoff berth last season.
The Vikings managed this boost without outstanding play from the quarterback position. Starter Christian Ponder, in his second season out of Florida State, was inconsistent. His backup, Joe Webb, was awful in his only significant action of the season. The third-string signal-caller was McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who didn't take a single live snap in 2012.
Coming into 2013, Minnesota is looking to improve again. In order to do this, the Vikings will need better play at the quarterback position.
The quarterback is the most important player on the field. In order for a team to succeed, the quarterback needs to be a leader. He should make good decisions in the pocket, make the necessary plays and limit his mistakes. These are all areas where Minnesota was lacking last season.
In analyzing and evaluating the Vikings' quarterbacks, there's reason for optimism, but there are also valid areas of concern. Read on for a full evaluation and depth-chart analysis of Minnesota's QB situation.
Starting at the top of the food chain, Ponder will be the team's starter in 2013, barring injury.
The jury is still out on the former first-round pick. At times, Ponder displays sound decision-making skills and is an asset to the team because of his intelligence and athleticism.
At other times, Ponder is inconsistent. When playing poorly, he doesn't set up in the pocket, causing his throws to lose both velocity and accuracy. He also tends to force throws into coverage, resulting in turnovers.
This inconsistency was quite evident in 2012. Last season, Ponder started out hot, and the team got off to a 5-2 start. According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, the Vikings' QB tossed nine touchdowns with just six interceptions over the first seven games.
Then, Ponder began to make bad decisions in the pocket and turn over the ball. Ponder threw for five touchdowns and five interceptions, and the Vikings went 1-4. Next, Ponder improved his performance, throwing four touchdowns and no interceptions, as Minnesota won its last four games to finish 10-6.
Most teams aren't blessed with a running back like Adrian Peterson. If not for Peterson's MVP performance, the Vikings wouldn't have been able to overcome the inconsistency of their quarterback.
Minnesota is hoping that the Ponder who finished the season is the player who will lead the team in 2013. Despite Ponder's inconsistency, the Vikings remain committed to him as their starter.
"Christian Ponder is our starting quarterback. Matt knows that, he knew it when we went through the acquisition."
While it's clear that the team is standing behind Ponder, everyone in the locker room knows that he'll have to improve his game if the Vikings are going to threaten the Green Bay Packers for supremacy in the NFC North. Defensive end Jared Allen, in an interview with Jim Rome, said that it's time for Ponder to step up.
I tell him all the time, you have to be the guy. Adrian (Peterson) can carry this team so far, our defense can carry this team so far. ... You know, you look at teams that historically win championships and they have consistent play from the quarterback position.
The signs point to continued improvement from Ponder in his third season. After his rough stretch in the middle of the season, the former Seminole did a good job in the final four games of the season. If his performance in the final month of the season is any indication, Ponder should continue to progress in 2013.
As mentioned, the Vikings signed Matt Cassel to back up Ponder in 2013.
While Ponder trended up toward the end of last season, the opposite is true of the former Kansas City signal-caller. Cassel threw 53 touchdowns and just 32 interceptions in his first three seasons as the Chiefs' starter. Last year, he tossed just six touchdown passes and was intercepted 12 times, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Cassel has been in the league for eight years. There's no reason to expect that he will suddenly improve his game. In an ideal world, the Vikings will never find out. If all goes well in Minnesota, Cassel won't take any significant snaps.
In any case, Cassel represents a significant upgrade at the No. 2 slot. Last year's backup, Joe Webb, is more of an athlete than a pure quarterback and struggles when forced to play a lot of snaps.
Webb's performance in last year's wild-card playoff game against Green Bay was likely the impetus that the Vikings needed to solidify the second spot. Webb was dreadful against the Packers, and there's no reason to believe that he'll ever get significantly better.
Over the course of his career, Webb has tossed four touchdowns and six interceptions. His athleticism is his primary asset. When he's on the field, the Vikings can play some read-option packages to take advantage of Webb's running ability.
If Webb remains on the roster in 2013, he'll do it as a wide receiver. According to Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Webb will change positions at training camp. While Webb's chances of making the squad as a receiver seem slim, the team is still in love with his athleticism and may try to keep him on the roster in some capacity.
With Webb out of the quarterback picture, the only real battle at the position will come at the No. 3 spot. The Vikings currently have two projects under contract. McLeod Bethel-Thompson spent last season carrying a clipboard for Minnesota. The team also signed James Vandenberg of Iowa to compete for the last QB spot on the roster.
Bethel-Thompson has a strong arm and has been in the Vikings system for a year. He has also been on the rosters of the San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins and has professional experience with the San Jose Sabercats and Sacramento Mountain Lions of the Arena League. A product of Sacramento State, Bethel-Thompson has the tools and the NFL experience to make the roster.
Vandenberg brings a similar skill set as Bethel-Thompson. He has a strong arm and good athleticism and played his college ball in the Big Ten at Iowa.
According to ESPN, Vandenberg didn't have a good senior season in 2012. He tossed seven touchdowns to go with eight interceptions. That represented a huge dropoff from his junior season, when he threw for more than 3,000 yards with 25 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. If Vandenberg is impressive at this month's OTAs, he could battle Bethel-Thompson for a roster spot or a place on the practice squad.
While there are still significant questions at the quarterback position in Minnesota, the Vikings appear to be better off than they were a year ago. Ponder played well at the end of the season, and Cassel represents a significant upgrade over Webb as the primary backup.
Vandenberg and Bethel-Thompson will battle for the No. 3 spot, while Joe Webb will fight to make the roster as a wide receiver. Expect the Vikings to keep three signal-callers on the roster. That means that the loser of the battle between Vandenberg and Bethel-Thompson will either be assigned to the practice squad or cut outright.
No matter who is at the helm, he should have more weapons at his disposal.
Peterson returns healthy after his prodigious 2012 season. Kyle Rudolph is an emerging threat at tight end, and the Vikings added veteran receiver Greg Jennings in free agency. The team also made a bold move to trade back into the first round of the draft and grab Tennessee playmaker Cordarrelle Patterson with the No. 29 pick.
If Ponder can stay healthy and continue to progress, Minnesota should be poised for another playoff run in 2013.
Have your own ideas about the QB situation in Minnesota? Think Cassel should get a shot at the job? Like the Joe Webb move? Speak your mind in the comments section below.
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