NAPA, Calif. — Christian Ponder is under no illusions about what kind of reaction he’ll get when he returns to Minnesota.
“I would expect some boos probably,” Ponder said.
Ponder even joked that he might even respond to the expected harsh treatment with a bow when he takes on the Vikings in an exhibition game for the Oakland Raiders on Friday night.
The game comes just over four years after the Vikings selected Ponder 12th overall, three years after he helped take Minnesota to the playoffs and two years after he lost his starting job.
It’s been a rapid fall for Ponder from potential quarterback of the future in Minnesota to likely clipboard holder in Oakland as the backup to Derek Carr. Ponder accepts the blame for his struggles.
“I just didn’t play well,” he said. “I didn’t play as well as I should have. (Matt) Cassel did well when he stepped in when I got hurt and they had a different plan going forward. It’s unfortunate it didn’t work out. I missed that opportunity but that’s in the past. I’m taking advantage of my chance here.”
Ponder has fared well so far, running with the first team for much of the offseason program while Carr dealt with an injury and throwing a touchdown pass in the exhibition opener for Oakland last week against the St. Louis Rams.
Ponder also serves as a valuable sounding board for a second-year player in Carr, having gone through many of the same experiences that Carr will face this season.
“He’s been here to help and here to compete every day,” Carr said. “I think we’ve played 30 to 40 games of ping pong, competing against each other. Those are good things. It’s not like we’re going to go our separate ways and not help each other. During the games, he’s there to ask questions, if I ask him about a cornerback, he’ll say, ‘Yeah, he did this.’ It’s very easy for us to have a conversation. We get along great and I love having him.”
Ponder’s star fell quickly in Minnesota after arriving with such promise after his college career at Florida State. He started the final 10 games his rookie season before holding the job for all of the 2012 campaign.
He threw for 2,935 yards with 18 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and an 81.2 passer rating his second season as the Vikings made it to the playoffs behind Adrian Peterson’s 2,097-yard rushing season.
Ponder missed the playoff loss to Green Bay with an elbow injury and then lost his job the following year when he threw seven TD passes and nine interceptions in nine games. Ponder fell to third string last year, making just one start.
“Obviously Christian wanted to get out there every Sunday and be the franchise quarterback everyone expected him to be when he came here, but with that being said, there isn’t a better professional out there than Christian,” said Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, one of Ponder’s closest friends on the team. “He goes about his business, he takes care of his work and he prepares each and every day as if he’s the starter on Sunday. Christian will be around this league for a long time because of that, and he’ll have plenty of opportunities to be on his teams because of his work ethic and the way he prepares himself.”
Ponder became a free agent after the season and knew he needed to find a new home. He quickly ended up in Oakland, where he was reunited with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, who had that same position for Ponder’s first three years with the Vikings.
The combination of the familiarity with Musgrave’s system and a chance for a fresh start were just what Ponder needed.
“It’s another opportunity for him,” Rudolph said. “All he could ask for is a fresh start and a new opportunity to go out there to Oakland. We all know Christian’s going to work every day and be a guy who, when is called upon, is going to go out and perform. So I’m sure he’s not doing anything different out in Oakland than he would out here.”
NOTES: TE Clive Walford, LB Sio Moore, CB Keith McGill, RB Roy Helu and FB Jamize Olawale remain sidelined by injuries and are unlikely to play Saturday. … The Raiders concluded their final practice in Napa with WR Michael Crabtree catching a TD pass from Carr against DJ Hayden on the final play.