Christian Ponder will take over for Donovan McNabb at quarterback, with coach Leslie Frazier saying the Vikings expect the rookie to start the rest of the season.
Updated: October 20, 2011 - 1:25 PM
Christian Ponder stutter-stepped onto the elevated stage Wednesday, then seemed to hold back a giddy laugh as he gripped the lectern and looked at the media horde in the Vikings' field house.
"What's up guys?" Ponder said, squinting to shield the glare of the TV lights. "I better get used to seeing y'all every week."
That's the plan now, a move made official Wednesday at Winter Park when Leslie Frazier not only confirmed Ponder's promotion to starting quarterback but did so without waffling.
"We expect for him to start for us the remainder of the season," the Vikings coach said.
That was that. From this point forward, Frazier and Ponder are linked for the long haul. And Donovan McNabb has been swept to a scrap heap, his stint as the Vikings starter abruptly over after six lackluster games.
Not surprisingly, Frazier's explanation Wednesday seemed frank but calculated. While lauding Ponder's composure and presence, the Vikings coach also stuck to some well-rehearsed talking points, insisting his decision did not mean the team was folding its hand for 2011.
"I want to reiterate, for me, it's all about what do we have to do to win a game," Frazier said. "And our next game is against Green Bay, the defending world champions. They're playing extremely well. Undefeated. And in my mind, this gives us the best chance to win. Period."
Realistically, it's far too late for Ponder to resuscitate a season that has the Vikings at 1-5 and ahead of only the Rams in the NFC. But it's certainly not too early to give the 23-year-old rookie some much-needed experience.
So while Frazier repeatedly insisted he promoted Ponder to give the Vikings the best chance at beating Green Bay, there's far greater long-term value for the franchise in making this switch now.
"There's no question that the fact that he'll get a chance to start playing in Week 7 of our season, it should help him in the future," Frazier said. "But that was not a part of my thinking. ... I didn't feel or sense that staying status quo was going to get us a win on Sunday."
The Vikings remain heavy underdogs against the unbeaten Packers. But at the very least, an always energized rivalry week now gets an added layer of intrigue.
"There's enough energy in a Vikings-Packers game in a regular week," Vikings receiver Greg Camarillo said. "We know now though that the quarterback change will bring a whole new level of attention."
Camarillo caught Ponder's longest completion, a 23-yarder during Sunday's 39-10 loss in Chicago, and sensed no awe from the rookie.
"You see already that he's a confident quarterback who knows our game plan really well," Camarillo said. "As a young guy, as a backup, it would be easy not to dedicate yourself to learning a plan designed for someone else. But he handled his business. He made some plays."
Ponder also will spend the rest of the season showcasing his mobility -- or what Vikings quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson calls his ability to "ad-lib to play beyond the play." Yet Ponder will have to develop discipline, striking a balance between using that strength and having the urge to overuse it.
Frazier said he believes Ponder will have his greatest success over time when he becomes comfortable in the pocket.
"But you also want him to use that asset he does have, that capability," Frazier said. "It's a matter of picking his spots and understanding defenses. And that will come over time."
Added Ponder: "I'm just going to let my instincts take over."
By most accounts, the rookie quarterback has shown noticeable progress in recent weeks. Frazier, for one, has long admired Ponder's practice habits.
Then Sunday, when Ponder finally saw his first regular- season action, the coaching staff felt a spark.
"Some of the things he did let me know that the game was not too big for him, not too fast for him," Frazier said.
Ponder, too, believes last weekend's experience will help him overcome the butterflies that will invade against the Packers. After all, in throwing for 99 yards on two series against the Bears, Ponder felt the game slow down just a bit.
"The biggest thing for me was going out and making a couple of throws and making a couple of plays and realizing, 'Hey, I can do this,'" he said. "I think it instilled a little confidence. And I think it was that first step, the first experience. I'm going to try to build up from there."
The opportunity is now all his.
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