Friday, July 1, 2016

christian ponder

With two preseason games down, and two to go, I found myself considering a number of changes to my prediction of who would make the Vikings final 53-man roster.  The last time I wrote a prediction was just before the open of training camp and quite a bit has happened since then.  The players that made my previous cut, but no longer do, are marked with a strike.  The players that are new to my list are bolded.

Quarterback: Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, McLeod Bethel-Thompson

Analysis:  No changes here.  MBT solidified his spot above Vandenberg with a solid performance last week, while Vandenberg didn’t even see the field.  Bill Musgrave recently made some comments about Joe Webb that have me considering only two quarterbacks making the roster, leaving Webb as a last resort, but I think that approach would be too unorthodox.

Running Back: Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Bradley Randle

Analysis:  That third running back spot is still a mystery because there are a few players, including Zach Line and Joe Banyard, that are making cases for themselves.  Still, I feel like Randle provides the Vikings with the most upside and some serious special teams value.  Randle is penciled in very lightly at this point, though.

Fullback: Jerome Felton

Analysis:  Felton’s recent surgery has many assuming Zach Line will be on the opening day roster, but he is expected to ready by week one and Rhett Ellison acts as a quality backup at the position.  I just don’t see the Vikings dedicating two spots to fullbacks.

Week three of the preseason always captures the attention of fans more than any other, even though week four tends to be make-or-break time for bubble players, because the first teams see their most extensive playing time.

As the Vikings prepare to play the Niners this weekend, after two very flawed games thus far in the preseason, I have a list of things I hope to see.  Here are the top five:

5.  Something, Anything, Out Of Ponder

On one hand, what Christian Ponder does in the preseason simply does not matter.  He’s the week one starter, barring injury or suspension, so how he plays impacts the depth chart very little.  Heck, if he lights it up in the preseason, it matters equally as little because what he needs to prove is that he can quarterback his team to wins on a consistent basis.  He can’t prove, at least to me, whether or not he is “the guy” during these preseason games.  He’ll have to wait until the regular season before he can make a real case for himself, or before critics can truly call for his head.

However, on the other hand, it sure would be nice to see him perform at a higher level than he has been.  A nice solid game out of him would go a long ways towards giving us some confidence about the pending playoff race.

Another week of preseason “action” has come and gone and Vikings fans have, for the most part anyways, not grown any more confident in the Christian Ponder led offense.  In fact, most seem to be getting less comfortable with how this offense is shaping up after Friday’s 16-20 loss in Buffalo.  The game was overall pretty sloppy, and it was hard to peer through the slop to try and learn anything, but I’ll give it a whirl anyways.

GRADE A

  • While the first team offense looked like Friday was perhaps their first time playing the game known as football, the defensive starters really did a nice job overall.  Were there a few blemishes throughout their time on the field?  Sure, but they were able to cover for each other and really limit Kevin Kolb (11 yds, 1 INT) and C.J. Spiller (27 rushing yards on 7 attempts).  Like we saw many times last year, the first team defense kept the game close while they were on the field, allowing only three points despite the offense hanging them out to dry on a number of occasions.
  • Last week I noted the lack of turnovers by out defense.  I really think they are close to being one of the NFL’s absolute best defenses, but they have to learn how to force turnovers and capitalize on opportunities before they’ll come close to earning such respect.  Jamarca Sanford seems to often be in the right place to make such plays, but frustratingly turns into Mr. McGoo when it comes to catching the ball.  After rookie corner Xavier Rhodes disrupted a Kevin Kolb pass on Friday, however, it was Sanford that made the diving grab that gave Minnesota possession of the ball.  We will need plenty of plays exactly like that one throughout this season to reappear in the playoffs, but we’ll need them against quarterbacks far more talented than Kold, too.
  • I know that the offense needs confidence.  I know that Adrian Peterson makes a big difference when he is on the field.  Still, I think one of the best things to come out of this game is that the NFL’s current MVP came out of it unscathed because he never played.  Leslie Frazier said Peterson is int he game plan for this coming preseason contest, but I can’t say I approve of playing him at all.

One of the key fundamentals of sharp quarterback play is precise footwook. Christian Ponder and Matt Casell on the surface may have similar stats and appear to play the same typical West Coast game-manager style, however, it is their footwork that separates the two and consequently paints a picture of inconsistent play.

 Cassel is a technician when it comes to his 5 step drops. The former Pro Bowl QB has sharp quick strides and he is able to consistently make his reads and release the ball a bit quicker than Ponder. I also think Cassel gets the hand off to the running backs slightly sooner as well. Now, with that said, after 5 steps all bets are off. Ponder is much better at stepping up in the pocket, throwing on the run or making a play when things break down.

The Vikings took on the Texans Friday night, and after having watched it twice (while also celebrating my daughter’s first birthday) I have come to the table with a look at some of the key takeaways from the contest.  The Vikings lost by a score of 27-13, but it is preseason so the final score is as inconsequential as a training camp scrimmage.  Instead, we try to dissect certain aspects of what happened in an effort to predict things to come.

GRADE A

  • The Vikings are believed to have finished their first week of the preseason without any additional injuries, at least no super serious ones, which is probably the most important thing about the game.  Rookie Sharrif Floyd had a good debut, with a couple of flashy plays (batted pass and tackle for a loss), but gave us all a scare when he hit the ground with a knee injury and was unable to return.  While he will have an MRI today, he is expected to be okay.  Often times, the best teams in any given NFL season are the ones that can stay the healthiest, so it was nice to see them come out of this relatively unscathed.
  • By all appearances, the Vikings got exactly what they expected when they signed veteran quarterback Matt Cassel.  Cassel looked exactly like Cassel has looked almost his whole career, which is to say he looked decent but unspectacular, which is an improvement over Joe Webb’s postseason performance that is still fresh in our memory.  Cassel had some very poor play on the line in front of him, but he still managed a decent outing completing 12 of 19 passes for 212 yards, a touchdown, and one interception.
  • The combination of Zach Line (1 catch, 61 yards, 1 TD) and Bradley Randle (3 rushes, 16 yards) has me excited, I must admit.  I have thought all along that Toby Gerhart would finish out his rookie contract as a Viking, and still consider it likely, but if Line and Randle can continue to make things happen in the preseason then the Vikings might feel tempted to explore trade options for Gerhart.  Line’s rumbling touchdown was quite impressive and Randle pass blocked as good as any Vikings running back since the days of Chester Taylor.
  • One penalty.  10 yards.  The entire game.  That’s the type of discipline that wins football games!

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