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Ponder is the right guy for the role of QB

Published 9:18am Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Column: Pothole Prairie, by Tim Engstrom

I still believe Christian Ponder is the right guy for the job of Minnesota Vikings quarterback.

When Ponder was selected 12th overall in the 2011 draft, much to the consternation of a few audible Minnesota Vikings fans who felt the team should have selected defensive line players Robert Quinn or Nick Fairley, I was glad.

Here was a franchise that for years had been filling the quarterback job with guys on the verge of retirement. We were the old folks’ home for quarterbacks: Brett Favre, Gus Frerotte, Brad Johnson, Jeff George, Randall Cunningham, Warren Moon and Jim McMahon.

The team had sought win-now solutions — and sometimes rightly so — but the coaches and the front office didn’t seem to have the stomach to nurture a young quarterback to success. I mean, this team had Johnson and Rich Gannon in their younger years. The Vikes traded them away, and they ended up leading other teams to Super Bowl games. Tsk tsk.

Yet the quarterback position is the most important. Other teams developed their superstar talent and were rewarded for it. Look at Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers in the green and gold state to the east. Look at Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco.

Then there was the Daunte Culpepper experiment. While the former Vikes QB had magnificent athleticism, he too often made poor choices on the field and off. He was a member of the Love Boat Scandal. And for a guy who had been playing four or five years, it seemed he was slow when making decisions with the ball. Um. Um. Um. Sack.

The Vikings tried to develop QB talent, yes, but it was a bust. The team went back to old guys.

What I kept telling people is the Vikings need a young guy who shows promise, quickness and smarts and then develop him into a true NFL quarterback. Favre didn’t start off a superstar. The Atlanta Falcons traded him away. Christian Ponder’s numbers are better than what Drew Brees had in his second season. They are better than Eli Manning’s and Matt Ryan’s. I could rattle on.

So in April 2011, when the Vikings selected Ponder out of Florida State, I knew the Vikings had changed its direction when it came to personnel. The franchise that once had Fran Tarkenton at QB was going to develop a quarterback. Yes! And Ponder was touted as a smart player, which in the complicated schemes of the NFL counts nearly as much as athleticism. And he can scramble.

Thank you, General Manager Rick Spielman.

Besides, I’d rather have a young guy at QB eager to prove himself, rather than an older guy who, win or lose, already proved his worth for another team. Thank the stars Donovan McNabb is off the squad.

Another thing I think the Vikings are doing right with Ponder is backing him all the way, despite what the sports pundits say. I’d hate to be like the New York Jets, who failed to show confidence in Mark Sanchez. They’d leave him hanging in the wind or take credit for him, based on his most recent performance. Gee, they did that to Chad Pennington, too. The franchise doesn’t stick together — you know, like a team should.

Quality teams shoot for stability and professionalism.

Ponder came out strong in the 2012 season, had a midseason swoon and returned to finish the season well. The team had a 4-1 beginning. Ponder was the last starting quarterback in the NFL to throw an interception. After his swoon, the team won four straight games to make the playoffs. In all, the Vikings finished 10-6, one game behind Rodgers and those despised Green Bay Packers. They even cost Chicago Bears coach Lovey Smith his job. Black and Blue Division indeed!

Sure, Ponder had the league’s Most Valuable Player at his side, but Adrian Peterson also is a big Ponder supporter.

On draft day in 2011, I grabbed a Vikings Favre jersey and stuck masking tape over the name on the back. I wrote “Ponder” on the tape. I think for 2013, I am going to need an actual Christian Ponder jersey.

If my guy ends up being a bust, I still am glad the Vikings made an attempt at developing a successful quarterback. It’s better than what they had been doing for decades.

Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.