Thursday, June 12, 2014

Vikings Position Focus: Quarterback

The quarterback... the position that has plagued the Vikings ever since Daunte Culpepper decided to have a rapid decline after the 2004 NFL season. As we all know, the Vikings had one brief flash of greatness in Brett Favre's first season with the team(2009), but the Vikings have not had a legitimate prospect for a franchise QB since Culpepper quit producing.

The Vikings have flirted with other QB prospects like John David Booty, Tyler Thigpen and Tavaris Jackson. Tavaris Jackson was the only serious candidate for a franchise quarterback out of the three mentioned. The Vikings spent a 2nd round pick on Jackson in the 2006 NFL draft, and the Vikes tried to ease him into the starting role. He was given a lot of time and a lot of chances to prove himself, but it was to no avail. Even though the Vikings Brought in veterans like Brad Johnson, Gus Ferotte and Brett Favre to buy Jackson some time, Minnesota had given up on Jackson. After the 2010 season, the Vikes decided to not resign Jackson and he is now a career back-up QB. This is the role to which he has always belonged.

Then in 2011, entering the draft everyone knew the Vikings needed to draft a legitimate quarterback prospect. Quarterbacks were flying off the board in the first round of the draft... Cam Newton... Jake Locker... Blaine Gabbert. Then, finally, pick 12 came. The Vikings drafted Florida State University's Christian Ponder. There were two different classes of reactions: The Masses and the Analysts.

The Masses: Huh? Who is Christian Ponder?

The Analysts(Anyone who seriously follows the draft): Good Pick! He was drafted a little early, but he has all the skills to run the west coast offense and he is a smart QB with all the intangibles.

Mike Mayoc was very excited about the Ponder pick. He loved what he saw on tape, and his only concern was Ponder's injuries to his throwing arm.

John Gruden loved the pick. He thought that Ponder was a QB who was a perfect fit for the Vikings.

Christian Ponder is a player whose draft stock shot up during the off-season. He had a very average college career, but he played well in the senior bowl(winning the MVP), had an excellent combine and drove the ball with accuracy at his pro-day. Ponder showed his physical ability to move and create time with his feet while looking down field, and a lot of scouts thought that he could be the real deal. This launched Ponder from being considered a mid to late 2nd round pick, to being a late 1st round or maybe an early 2nd round pick. Everyone thought that Ponder was drafted a little high, but ultimately most people didn't think that the Vikings made a mistake taking a QB early. However, it turned out to be a big mistake taking Ponder that early. The next QB on the Vikings list was the former TCU, and now Cincinnati Bengals quarterback: Andy Dalton. The Vikings visited with Andy Dalton and were very impressed with him, but Frazier and company decided early on that Ponder was their guy(Click on Andy's name for some more info on that whole process). Dalton is on his way to a successful career, and Ponder is on his way to a career back-up role or out of the league.

Ponder has, at times, showed a lot of potential, and, at times, was replaced by Joe Webb, Matt Cassel and briefly Josh Freeman. What was Ponder's Problem?

As Rick Spielman would attest, the problem with QB Christian Ponder has never really been physical. Ponder seems to lack confidence in himself, as well as the leadership ability to go out and play well no matter what happened on the previous drive. He get's in his own head. The NFL has seen this happen to a lot of NFL players, especially Quarterbacks and Kickers. I automatically think of Ryan Leaf. Leaf and Peyton Manning competed heavily to be the number one pick in the 1998 NFL draft. Manning was taken first, and will be a HOF'er... whereas Leaf was taken second, and is in prison on drug charges. Leaf had the stronger arm and, supposedly, greater potential. So what went wrong? To be a quarterback in the NFL, you have to have the "It Factor". You need to be able to forget the mistakes you made on the previous drive, and go out knowing you won't make them again. There needs to be a clutch factor that keeps you cool in the 4th quarter. Playing the quarterback position is not just physical. It is also not just being a smart football player. It oozes confidence. The kind of confidence that your teammates recognize and adhere to.

Though Ponder is still on the roster, I just don't think he has the "It Factor".

In the 2014 NFL Draft, the Vikings selected Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater is kind of the opposite case of Christian Ponder. Teddy has had an amazing college career, but his stock plummeted in the pre-draft exercises due to poor accuracy and arm strength at his pro-day. This scared off many potential suitors, but the Vikings Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner, Head Coach Mike Zimmer and General Manager Rick Spielman have met with the QB multiple times. They have worked out Bridgewater multiple times, and they were extremely impressed with him. After the draft, Mike Zimmer and Spielman claimed that Bridgewater was their guy all along. Bridgewater has, thus far, had an up-and-down off-Season through OTA's, but mostly up. There is no pressure for Bridgewater to start in his first year, so he has plenty of time to learn the professional game. Teddy is the most polished quarterback drafted this year. He has great footwork, a quick drop, a very quick release and he is very accurate. Bridgewater needs to do all he can to continue to build his arm-strength and deep accuracy, but the Vikings are very confident that he will come along nicely.

Matt Cassel, the reason Teddy has no pressure to start right away, was resigned this Off-Season to a 2 year, 10 million dollar deal. Cassel, who started his career as a 7th round draft pick to back up the future Hall of Famer: Tom Brady. Lucky for Cassel, Brady went down in the 2008 season with a torn ACL. This paved the way for Cassel to play the whole season, and walk his way into a very nice contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. His best year with the Chiefs came in 2010, when he threw for 3116 yards, 27 TD's and only 7 Interceptions. He led the Chiefs to the playoffs, and then... he had an injury filled decline. The Chiefs elected to not resign Cassel and he would go on to be picked up by the Vikings last year. Cassel eventually took the starting spot, and played decently. The Vikes decided to resign him in the off-season. Cassel his a placeholder... a safety net while the Vikings see what they have in Bridgewater.

According to the OTA reports: Bridgewater has been solid yet obviously learning, Cassel has been pretty good but pretty much what we saw last year, and Ponder has been inconsistent(surprise surprise...).

Though the Vikings are playing it cool, everyone know that Ponder is not going to be the Vikings starter. I imagine that Cassel will start for the majority of the season, but Bridgewater will take over later.

This is the last "Vikings Position Focus" blog for the season. Overall, the Vikings are just a better team than last year. They are young and have a lot to prove, but the coaching and players have more potential and talent than last year. Mike Zimmer has incorporated a new diet and workout system(number 7), that has already shed the fat and has added muscle. This team will be younger, leaner and better coached. Keep your ideas for vast improvement realistic, but there is no reason to think that they won't improve.

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