Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was asked Tuesday what he’d like to see from third-string quarterback Christian Ponder in Thursday night’s final preseason game at Tennessee. His answer summed up what everyone has been waiting to see in Ponder since the Vikings selected the Florida State QB 12th overall three years ago.
“Just have the poise, when he’s getting rushed, to make the right throws,” Zimmer said.
That sentence, and Ponder’s consistent inability to fulfill it, sums up Ponder’s fall from future franchise quarterback hopeful at age 22 to current third-string insurance policy/trade bait/one-more-year-afterthought at age 25.
Ponder has enough physical talent to play the position. Zimmer said he thinks Ponder’s arm strength is underrated. And maybe he’s right. But it’s hard to tell since Ponder usually appears either too slow to decipher and/or unwilling to trust his arm for fear of making a mistake. Sometimes, you’d like for him to just make a bad decision as opposed to, well, no decision when it comes to passing the ball.
“I’d like to see him do what he does out here in practice,” Zimmer said. “He made, like, three great throws [Tuesday].”
Ponder proved in 2012 – the year the Vikings went 10-6 and made the playoffs — that he can make the necessary throws. However, what he didn’t prove was he can make them consistently when the pocket collapses and the pass rush is in his face. And in case you haven’t noticed, that happens regularly in the NFL.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner was talking back in May about evaluating college quarterbacks. He said he looks for the guy who “can make the NFL throw” because “I can get 100 guys who can come in here and make the college throw.” Then he showed some film of rookie Teddy Bridgewater making some quick, strong and accurate throws with the pocket collapsed and defenders crowding his legs.
Whether this is something that can be taught is tough to say since each quarterback and quarterback teacher is so different and develops so differently.
Bridgewater has credited Turner with already managing to speed up his dropback, which in turn has helped him buy more time to read the defense, aim at the target and let the ball fly.
Bridgewater most likely will start Thursday night as the Vikings rest No. 1 quarterback Matt Cassel and several starters. Ponder also is expected to play most of the game, so we’ll get a look at his progress or lack thereof for the first time since the preseason opener.
At this point, it appears Ponder will make the final roster and serve as an insurance policy against an injury. Those who don’t like that idea probably would feel differently if Cassel was injured in the first quarter at St. Louis and the Vikings had to play ¾ of that game with just Bridgewater and the next 15 with Bridgewater and some young street free agent who hasn’t been practicing Turner’s offense since March.
Having some experience and mobility at the No. 3 quarterback spot should be viewed as insurance money well spent. Just throwing in the towel if Cassel and Bridgewater were hurt would be admitting it’s OK to just waste another year of Adrian Peterson’s career.
Peterson is having a Hall of Fame-type career. But he’s also 29 years old and has experienced just one playoff victory.
The 1996-97 Timberwolves, with a young Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury, won 40 games. Back then, the West was the NBA’s lesser conference (four teams in the Wolves’ division won 24 games or fewer), and that 40-42 record was enough to get the Wolves the No. 6 seed in the playoffs. It felt like the start of something big, and even though Marbury blew up the dynamic duo, it was the beginning of eight consecutive playoff appearances.
The 2013-14 Timberwolves, with Kevin Love and a cast of others, won 40 games. These days, the West is the NBA’s dominant conference (the Suns, at 48-34, couldn’t even get into the playoffs), and the Wolves missed the postseason by a long shot. It felt like the beginning of the end of a rebuilding project that never got off the ground, and it signaled the end of the Love Era in Minnesota.
We bring up the past not as a way to pick at old scabs but rather as a way to frame the Love Era. In a different league, the Wolves might have been an up-and-comer. Instead, they traded love and started over. In the big picture, though, we do wonder: Are they better off, regardless?
In the short-term, Minnesota goes from being a 40-win team to what will probably be a 28-to-30-win team. As constructed a year ago, and without much prospect for injecting new talent beyond trading Love, the Wolves’ ceiling with Love as their core player was probably what it was during KG’s time before Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell: 45-50 wins and a quick playoff exit.
That sounds pretty good when compared to what has happened the last decade, but it’s not the goal when constructing a team. The goal, of course, is to win a championship. The 2014-15 Wolves are further from that goal than the 2013-14 Wolves were. But, say, the 2016-17 Wolves with Love or with the current core?
An argument could be made that a core led by Wiggins and co. has a better chance to be special than a core with Love.
Maybe that’s crazy talk and wishful thinking. Or maybe the second-best player in franchise history forcing his way out will end up being one of the best things that ever happened to the Wolves.