2011 NFL Draft: Exclusive One-on-One Chat with Quarterback Christian Ponder
On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to talk to 2011 NFL Draft prospect Christian Ponder. Before discussing exactly what we talked about, I wanted to give you a little background on Ponder, one of the fastest rising prospects on the eve of the NFL's annual rite of passage.
Ponder was a three-year starter for Florida State University. During his career he started 24 of 37 games for the Seminoles, completing 596 of 965 passes (61.76-percent completion percentage) for 6,782 yards and 49 touchdowns.
Like many of the top collegiate quarterbacks of today, Ponder was able to create plays with his legs as he toted the pigskin 296 times for 833 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 7,705 yards of total offense ranks third all-time at Florida State. In 2010, Ponder became the first Seminoles quarterback since Chris Weinke in 1999 to beat both Florida and Miami in the same season.
In the 2011 Under Armour Senior Bowl, Ponder was selected as the game's Most Valuable Player after connecting on 7 out of 13 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns in leading the South to a 24-10 victory over the heavily-favored North squad.
Pro Football Weekly has described the 6'2", 227-pound former Seminole as "extremely tough-minded and intelligent with terrific intangibles. Above-average arm strength, accurate short. Gets rid of the ball quickly with good timing. Moves well outside the pocket and can extend plays with his feet. Has a gamer mentality with the moxie and grit to command a huddle and win respect in the lockerroom. Has a confident, composed on-field temperament and can rally a team from behind."
Off the field, Ponder is one of the most accomplished student athletes in the nation. He graduated from Florida State after just two-and-a-half years in May of 2008 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance.
He then completed his MBA degree at FSU last May and is currently enrolled in Florida State's graduate program in Sports Management. Not surprisingly, Ponder was the recipient of the James Tatum Award, given to the Atlantic Coast Conference's top football student athlete.
Ponder and I covered a wide range of topics. Here is what we discussed.
1. Immediate Impact
Question: What do you feel you are going to bring to an NFL team in Year 1?
Answer: I think I am a quarterback that is ready to play early. Whether that happens or whether I have to wait, I am OK with either situation.
But coming out of Florida State we ran a real pro-style, complex offense where the quarterback had a lot of responsibility. There was a lot of responsibility on me to check the play at the line.
On almost every play, we went up to the line with two or three plays and I could choose between them depending on what look we got from the defense. I was also in charge of pass protections and picking up certain blitzes.
There were a lot of things that I did under center that prepared me for the next level. I'm ready to play in Year 1 if need be.
2. Ponder vs. the Other Top Quarterbacks in This Draft
Question: There haven't been this many quarterbacks talked about who figure to go early in the draft in some time. If you were talking to an NFL general manager, what would separate you from some of the other guys?
Answer: Again, with the offense we ran (at Florida State) I might be ahead of some the other guys. But also my intelligence level; I am able to comprehend a lot of information and do it in a quick manner, which will be good if I have to start early.
With the lockout, if I can't learn the offense until the lockout is cleared up and that happens say in August and I have a month to prepare, I think that puts me at an advantage since I am able to pick things up quickly.
I think that I am extremely accurate with the ball and my athletic ability works to my advantage as well.
3. Florida State Memories
Question: Going back to Florida State for a moment, what was one of the sweetest moments of playing there?
Answer: My best memory by far was beating up on Florida. They had six-straight wins over us in the past six years. Being at home during my senior year in the last game I was playing at Doak Campbell Field, it was huge.
To be up 31-7 (was incredible) and we controlled that game. The atmosphere that night was the best I have seen it since I've been at Florida State. The crowd was awesome and I really enjoyed the moment.
4. Preferred Play
Question: What's your favorite play to run?
Answer: We had this play at Florida State we called the "snake route" which almost turned into "stick post" where you are reading the safety and throwing the ball in the seam. I like any completions that can turn into big plays, and that was always one of my favorites.
5. Senior Bowl
Question: Let's move back to the draft process. You earned the MVP Award at the Senior Bowl and by all accounts had a great week of practice. What do you think you established during the week?
Answer: I knew that going into the game that it was going to be a big opportunity for me. A lot of people had concerns over my health throughout my senior year.
I got a concussion in our bowl game, which I was able to go out and finish. So I was hungry to play again and clear up these concerns that everyone had.
To go out and perform well in these practices, play well in the game and get that MVP was huge for me. It kind of got the momentum going in the rest of the pre-draft process.
It gave me a lot of confidence and I was excited about it. I took full advantage of that opportunity. I think it started raising interest from teams, and it carried that momentum into the combine, into interviews and probably workouts.
6. The Draft Process as a Whole
Question: Certainly with the NFL Network and the Internet, people have a lot more insight into the pre-draft process than they did in the past. But could you shed some light on something from the process that people really don't understand?
Answer: Overall, I think the biggest thing that people don't realize is that all these people with the mock drafts and all the inclinations they have of where somebody is going to be selected are (likely pointless). I don't even know where I am going to go.
A team doesn't even know where a player is going to go. That's the whole crazy thing about this process; everything changes on draft day with one pick.
That (one pick) could have an effect on the rest of the teams and what they are going to do. So, I think it's really hard to predict where someone is going to go and having an idea what's going to happen.
And then (the other thing that is hard to understand) is just how crazy the whole process is. It's very intense. You are being poked and prodded and criticized about everything.
There is little down time, especially when the combine is done. You have your pro days, and you go on the team visits and private workouts. It's really nonstop, hectic. But I have enjoyed it. It's been really fun for me.
7. The Crazy, the Bizarre, the Unexplainable
Question: During this process, what's the craziest thing that either a team asked you or put you through in trying to get to know you?
Answer: There hasn't been anything too crazy. I did get asked the question: "What would you rather be: a cat or a dog?"
That's kind of from out of left field, but Blaine (Gabbert) had said that someone asked him if he wears womens underwear, which is weird. I don't really know what they are trying to get from that question. I guess they want to see your reaction. I didn't really get asked anything that outrageous.
8. Role Models
Question: As a quarterback, are there players that are in the NFL that you try to emulate or try to model?
Answer: Currently, I really think that I am similar to Aaron Rodgers, which a lot of people say is a cop out because he just won a Super Bowl.
But with the things that he has done and what he brings to the table, I think I am pretty similar to him with my athletic ability, accuracy and instincts.
Growing up, I wore No. 7 because I was a huge John Elway fan. He was my idol. I always wanted to be him and really enjoyed watching him play.
9. Keys to Being a Successful Student Athlete
Question: You got your bachelor's degree in two-and-a-half years, you went for your MBA and got that before your final season, and my understanding is that you are in graduate school now. How does a student-athlete go ahead and accomplish all that?
Answer: I graduated high school early so I enrolled (at FSU) in January, which gave me a couple of months to get acclimated to the college level without really having the pressure to get ready for the season.
I also came in with 21 hours from AP classes in high school and I set the right priorities. I knew that one thing I could control was how I did in the classroom. I knew that I wanted to get an MBA; I knew I wanted to get my graduate degree because that's becoming like the new undergraduate degree.
I wanted to set myself apart and prepare myself for once college is done.
If I don't do well in professional football or an injury happens or whatever, I set myself up to be OK with finding a job. Then, when football ends, after the NFL, that I have this to fall back on, having a good background and skills to do something else with my life.
Question: What advice would you give to other student athletes?
Answer: With me it was setting goals and just working my priorities around those goals. The biggest issue is time management. I didn't have much of a social life because I was more worried about these other things, doing well in the classroom and doing well on the football field. The social life had to be sacrificed, which I'm OK with.
10. Best Opposing Players
Question: Playing in the ACC and against other rivals, was there a player who particularly caught your eye as an opponent or that you feared after scouting him?
Answer: There were a couple of guys that I saw on the film that were unbelievable to me. Mark Herzlich, who plays linebacker at Boston College, was unbelievable on film, especially during his junior year. He is so instinctive and really athletic. He made plays all over the place.
Also, Aaron Curry, who was a linebacker at Wake Forest and a top 10 pick in the draft a couple of years ago (actually selected fourth overall in the 2009 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks). Both those guys really caught my eye on film, played really well, and were guys that I was aware of all the time on the field.
11. Rodney Hudson
Question: Tell me about one of your teammates, Rodney Hudson (one of the top center/guards in the 2011 NFL Draft).
Answer: There is a whole lot I can say about him. The guy is unbelievable. He's the perfect football player. He loves the game. He's completely dedicated to the game.
(Hudson) is so instinctive in what he does. He's athletic and smart. If I had to bring one guy to a team it would be him. I trust fully in what he does.
He is very flexible. He was a left guard, but they tried to put him at center. He was our backup center and can do it in the NFL. He'll have an extremely long career in the league and be successful.
12. NFL Adjustments
Question: Is there an adjustment you feel that you need to make at the next level that is pressing, something you need to improve on?
Answer: Not really. I don't know if there is really an adjustment to make, but learning that offense and some of the crazy defenses that teams run will be key. Getting as much knowledge as possible and getting comfortable with what I am going to be doing at the next level. There is really not anything to change from a physical standpoint, but just preparing for what I am going to be doing.
13. Ponder's NFL Future
Question: Finish this sentence for me. Christian Ponder is going to consider his first NFL season a success if...
Answer: If I take full advantage of what I am going to do. Whether I am starting right away, then I need to be successful on the field, learn as much as possible, put my team in a position to make the playoffs and have a successful run. Or, if it's me being a backup that first year, then learn as much as possible, be prepared to be the starter, and know that I have done everything I can to be a successful quarterback in the league.
Special note: Please don't forget to check out this related piece on Christian Ponder's involvement with the New York Life Protection Index, a new tool that measures the success of offensive linemen. http://bleacherreport.com/articles/679432-christian-ponder-teams-with-new-york-life-for-protection-index