Can Christian Ponder Reclaim Vikings Starting QB Job This Weekend?

Zach KruseSenior Analyst IOctober 24, 2013

Oct 21, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Josh Freeman (12) and quarterback Christian Ponder (7) look on in the final minutes of their team's loss to the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. The Giants won the game 23-7. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

A concussion to Josh Freeman will give Christian Ponder another chance to be the starting quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings, a job that continues to spin in circles for a team that doesn't appear to have a clear plan at the position. 

Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier announced Wednesday that Freeman suffered a head injury during Monday night's loss to the New York Giants and that Ponder would likely get the start in his place.

"(Freeman) has concussion-like symptoms," Frazier said. "They are going to take him through the NFL protocol today, and we'll evaluate him daily. That means Christian will be working with our first unit in practice."

Frazier mostly sidestepped questions about Ponder being able to reclaim the starting job with a strong performance against the Green Bay Packers.

However, the Vikings head coach had already named Freeman the team's starting quarterback earlier in the week. Before learning of his injury, it appeared Frazier was comfortable with the idea of Freeman learning on the job as the starter, especially given the narrow window in which the franchise has to evaluate the 25-year-old's worthiness as a long-term answer.

Given that information, the general assumption should be that Frazier will reinsert Freeman at the top of the depth chart by as early as next week, regardless of what Ponder does Sunday night. 

Yet considering the events of this season, nothing about what the Vikings say at the quarterback position should be written in stone.

Oct 13, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder (7) and quarterback Josh Freeman (12) look on from the sidelines during the third quarter against the Carolina Panthers at Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome. Mandat
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

Minnesota came into 2013 with Ponder as the unquestioned starter and Matt Cassel as nothing more than a veteran backup plan. Yet Ponder lost his job in late September when a rib injury cost him a start against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team Cassel beat with a turnover-free performance in London. Following their bye, the Vikings named Cassel the starter over a healthy Ponder. 

Minnesota's quarterback carousel then added another member.  

Only days before Cassel stunk up his second start, the Vikings made quick work of a young, big-name and suddenly available option. Released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Oct. 3, Freeman signed a one-year deal with the Vikings on Oct. 8. 

When Freeman was named the starter against the Giants less than two weeks later, the Vikings made a strong statement about their confidence level in both Ponder and Cassel as both short-term and long-term options. 

Few outside Winter Park would argue that Freeman gave Minnesota its best chance to win in New York. Ponder and Cassel were each considerably more prepared to compete in their starts than Freeman, who had just a handful of practices working with the first-team offense. 

Yet there was Frazier, throwing his naturally talented, big-armed option to the wolves during a nationally televised contest. The results were atrocious (33 incompletions, zero offensive points) but mostly predictable.  

The rush to start Freeman was ill-advised, but it also sent a clear message: The Vikings no longer considered Ponder the answer as the team's franchise quarterback, and it was time to start the evaluation process on Freeman. 

For at least one week, it's back to the original Plan A.

There should be little doubt that Ponder has grown from the events of this season. Handled with kid gloves for his first two NFL seasons, Ponder now has the humbling experience of being sent to the bench to draw on. He knows this is his last chance to make something work in Minnesota. 

"I know this is an opportunity to step back and improve on some things and I did," Ponder said, via Tom Pelissero of USA Today. "It's got to translate out to the field, though. I'm excited."

In the past, when pushed into a corner, Ponder has answered the call. His final four games of 2012 were part of the reason why Minnesota qualified for the postseason after starting 6-6, and few will forget his three-touchdown showing against the Packers in Week 17 to clinch a playoff birth. 

However, it would be difficult to envision the Vikings delaying their evaluation of Freeman once he recovers from a concussion. For all intents and purposes, the evaluation process on Ponder has been completed. 

The Vikings now need to find out if Freeman is a quarterback that should be retained past the 2013 season.  

Ponder could replicate his Week 17 stat line from last year—234 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 120.2 passer rating—and Frazier would still be inclined to go back to Freeman. The Vikings have done the dance with Ponder before; it's one encouraging step forward, two frustrating steps back. 

Once a first-round pick with all the support of the franchise behind him, Ponder is now a stopgap to the next best hope in Minnesota. With Josh Freeman in town, Ponder's chances of nailing down the Vikings starting job have already left the building.