By Jon Krawczynski
AP Sports Writer
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — The quarterback carousel hasn’t stopped turning for the Vikings and it seems to spin more wildly out of control each week.
After an awful debut on Monday night, Josh Freeman reported to team headquarters this week with concussion-like symptoms. The short week will make it difficult for him to gain clearance to play Sunday night against Green Bay.
Step right up, Christian Ponder. It’s your turn to hop on for another ride when the Vikings (1-5) host the Packers (4-2).
“It’s an opportunity to get back in the saddle and be more vocal and take ahold of this position,” Ponder said on Wednesday after practice, “because I don’t want to give it back.”
Ponder started the first three games of the season, was injured and then lost his job to backup Matt Cassel. Cassel played well in a victory over Pittsburgh and poorly in a loss to Carolina two weeks ago, prompting coach Leslie Frazier to turn to the newly signed Freeman against the New York Giants on Monday.
Freeman went 20 for 53 for 190 yards and one interception in the loss to the Giants, but coach Leslie Frazier said Tuesday that he would stick with Freeman going forward as the starter.
Then Freeman was diagnosed with the concussion symptoms, thrusting Ponder back into the middle of the action. For a team that is looking to stabilize itself during a massively disappointing first six weeks, the ins and outs at quarterback aren’t helping.
“At the quarterback position, you want to know who is going to be lining up week-in and week-out,” Frazier said. “But that’s the circumstance where we are and Christian will do a good job for us on Sunday night.”
When the season started, it was Ponder who was cast as the franchise quarterback. He had been inconsistent in his first two seasons in the league after being taken 12th overall in 2011. But GM Rick Spielman and Frazier were confident that he would follow the path of Eli Manning and have a breakout season in Year 3.
Then they watched Ponder complete just 59 percent of his passes and throw five interceptions to just two touchdown passes in three straight losses to open the season and made the decision that his time as the team’s starting quarterback had come to an end. Ponder was clearly disappointed with the decision, and he didn’t get a lot of help from a lackluster offensive line in the process, but he bit his tongue and moved forward as Freeman was brought in to take over.
“He’s a competitor and he wants to be out there for sure. But he’s handled it well,” Frazier said. “Our conversations have been positive. We even talked last week about the possibility of something like this happening, just being ready. When you’re in a backup role it takes one play for you to have to be the starter so you’ve got to make sure your mind is right and you’re doing what you’ve got to do to prepare to go out and play and play well.”
Veteran receiver Greg Jennings, who will be facing his former team for the first time this week, said he hopes Ponder has learned from his time on the sideline.
“Any time you have to take a backseat, any time you have to sit down for a minute, it gives you time to reflect and I think he’s done that,” Jennings said. “He’s seen how important it is to play at a high level at that position. But even more importantly, how important that position is to the overall success of the team and what it takes to actually hold that position.
“It’s not just about your quarterback play, it’s about how you lead off the field as well and on the field, how you command the huddle, how you demand things of your teammates. I think he’s had the opportunity to see that.”
Ponder said he was surprised by the “short leash” he had to start the season, and he thinks he was putting too much pressure on himself. Life as a backup has given him a new perspective.
“Now is the opportunity to take that deep breath and go out and have fun again,” Ponder said. “I already got benched, so it can’t get worse than that.”