Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Frazier Concedes that Vikings Will Have to Consider Options if Ponder were to be Injured

In 2011, with Joe Webb coming off a promising start to what Minnesota never intended to be a quarterback career, the Minnesota Vikings used their first-round draft choice on a little-heralded quarterback out of Florida State, Christian Ponder.  Faced with a lockout that prohibited coaches and players from working with each other and ostensibly prohibited teams with new coordinators from getting playbooks to players, the Vikings somehow found a way to get Ponder Bill Musgrave's offensive playbook.

Webb did not receive the same courtesy from the Vikings, despite new head coach Leslie Frazier's frequent public statements that the the Vikings' quarterback competition was equally open to all quarterbacks on roster.

When the lockout ended, Ponder stood atop the depth charts despite not yet having played in the NFL.  The Vikings' coaches lauded Ponder's IQ and Rick Spielman reminded fans and media members--assuming any meaningful distinction--that Ponder was "the most NFL-ready quarterback in the draft."

Just before the beginning of the 2011 NFL season, however, Frazier convinced Spielman to take a flyer on Donovan McNabb.  Spielman obliged.  After several games of limited effort but considerable sideline jocularity, preening, and backslapping, McNabb was out and Ponder was anointed the new starter.

There was no competition to be McNabb's successor.  Ponder was the successor.  We were told it was because Ponder had demonstrated himself in practice.  A fallacy, of course, given that Ponder took limited reps in practice prior to McNabb's ouster and, more importantly, because Spielman, as we now most definitely know, could not possibly have assessed Ponder's ability in such a short time.

Ponder took the field and immediately heaved an eephus pitch for a touchdown.  Spielman beamed.  "That's why we took him," he gloated.  The gloating did not last long.

When the 2011 season became rocky for Ponder, the Vikings turned to Webb who looked every bit a young but improving quarterback with a good arm, good instincts, and genuine--rather than manufactured and coached--rapport with teammates.  Nobody ever said that they worked long hours with Webb on how to be a team leader, as Frazier now says the team has done with Ponder.  Nor did anyone within the organization criticize Webb's play, other than to note the need to eliminate turnovers.

Following his dismal 2011 finish, Ponder again received the nod in camp in 2012.  Despite being outplayed by Sage Rosenfels, Webb, and McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Ponder was anointed opening day starter.  Rosenfels was sent packing--presumably so as to remove one legitimate competitor and the scary specter for Ponder of having to be concerned about doing his job--and Webb was relegated to the role of backup upon whom the team never intended to call, with Spielman encouraging the locals to believe that Webb did not have a strong enough arm or adequate pocket presence to be a bona fide NFL quarterback.

Through the first month of the 2012 season, Ponder was average, the model rookie caretaker, minus the polish of a seasoned caretaker.  He was so ordinary that the Vikings encouraged touting his performance against San Francisco--a game in which Ponder performed just slightly below league average.

After that game, Ponder began to look increasingly less ordinary and more and more awful.  The nadir was Sunday's game in which he broke the 40-yard pass mark during an excruciatingly abysmal two-minute drive that saw full huddles and dump off passes against a prevent defense.

Not deterred, however, Spielman remains steadfast by his pick.  Frazier, ever the company robot--notwithstanding hints to the contrary--hides his disdain for such buffoonery behind pat cliches such as "Christian knows he will get better.  He needs to getter.  He will get better.  We know he will get better because we need him to get better."  If willing were a cure for awful quarterback play, Ponder would be en route to the Hall of Fame behind this coaching staff and front office.  Alas, it is not.

For the Vikings, the situation could not be worse.  Spielman does not want to pull Ponder because Ponder was a gigantic reach in 2011.  No other team appeared to have Ponder on their board in round one--or even in rounds two or three.  Not only did the Vikings reach, therefore, they reached against themselves.

Understandably unwilling to admit his folly and allow the "crowning jewel" to his house of draft cards to be felled, Spielman is willing to jeopardize not only his career but those of Frazier and Musgrave.  But the day of reckoning must and will come and Frazier surely knows this.

Frazier has now acknowledged, at least, that, if Ponder is injured, the Vikings will have to consider making a change at quarterback.  But Frazier is still maintaining that Ponder gives the Vikings the best chance to win.  We know Frazier does not believe this, but apparently he believes that step-toeing to Spielman's order will not cost him his job.

That's loyalty and stupidity.  And it's costly to the Vikings all for the sake of Spielman's vanity.  Removing Ponder now would give the Vikings not only a shot at the playoffs, but also time to assess what they have in Webb.  Spielman clearly is afraid of what this might reveal--that the guy who is more likely the team's quarterback of the future was already on the roster when he drafted Ponder.  Hence, the inertia to maintain Ponder as a fixture.

All of this, of course, is one huge dung drop on fans.  At the beginning of 2012, the Vikings promised that this was not a rebuilding year.  When they managed an exceedingly soft portion of the schedule with a 6-2 record, they looked to be keeping their pledge to compete.  When Ponder became the obstacle to success, however, rather than playing to win, Spielman and Frazier made excuses, claiming that the team is "young" and that this is about "building for the long term."  For Spielman, vanity had become more important than competing.  For Frazier, loyalty to someone who did not deserve loyalty trumped wisdom.  And for the fans--if not also the team--all are left to suffer.

Up Next:  Vikings' Best Hope for the Playoffs.

No comments: