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Ponder, Frazier Look Ahead To Sunday's Season Opener

Posted Sep 4, 2013

Vikings Quarterback Christian Ponder

It’s exciting to be back in front of you guys. This is awesome. The whole team is excited, the whole organization is excited for this week. I sound like Tim Tebow (Laughs). I’m excited. We know this is going to be a tough game for us opening at Detroit. They have a great defense and a great offense as well. But it’s a great way for us to start, with two divisional games to start off with and it’s going to make us fully focused on everything that we’re doing and it’s going to be tough, but it’s a great challenge for us. It’s the road to what all our goals are and ultimately to be playing in February in New York City.

Q: After looking at the preseason, how much different do you expect things to be in the regular season? Do you expect more to be unveiled?

A: Well Adrian (Peterson) is a big part of this offense, I think everyone knows that and he’s going to make a difference when he’s out there. I think every team is pretty limited in what they do in the preseason, offense and defense. We don’t want to show our cards too early and we didn’t do a whole lot of game planning during the preseason so this is different. We are really game planning Detroit and will show some different things we worked on in the preseason but didn’t show in games and we’ll implement those into this game plan. Bill (Musgrave) has done a great job and everyone is confident in the game plan we have so far.

Q: Where have you made your biggest strides going into this year?

A: I’m just fully confident in what I’m doing. I think with the pieces that we brought in around me this year, it’s going to make my job easier. We have great receivers, obviously bringing in Greg (Jennings) and Cordarrelle (Patterson), the continuation of the maturation of Jarius (Wright) and Jerome (Simpson) in this offense as well is getting better and then Kyle (Rudolph) is always a great player for us and John Carlson and Rhett (Ellison) and Adrian and Toby (Gerhart) and Matt Asiata. Our front is playing really well and I just expect to overall be a better quarterback.

Q: Does that put any extra pressure on you personally now that you have all the weapons there and now the rest is up to you?

A: No, no I think it has always been up to me, just like the other 31 teams. For me, I think if anything, it takes less pressure because I know those guys are going to make plays and it’s my job to get the ball to them and let them do their thing.

Q: Is Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley as good of defensive tackle duo you’ll see and what kind of challenges do they give you?

A: They’re extremely talented and they’re one of the best duos. Their whole front four is one of the best front fours in the whole league and it’s going to be a challenge for our offensive line, but I’m fully confident in our offensive line. They’re playing really well. Having all five guys back, I think we’re one of just a few teams that have all five starting O-lineman back and that’s huge for us. The communication level and the confidence level that they have in each other is going to be great and it’s a great way to have that starting Week One in Detroit.

Q: What have you seen in Jerome Simpson?

A: Well I think he’s healthy. I think last year he battled the weird injury that he had that I think had a pretty big affect on him, so that’s big. I think he’s playing more confident. He’s more comfortable in this offense and knows more and more what he’s doing and you can just tell he’s having fun out there. That’s the biggest thing I’ve liked about him since he became a part of this team, he always has fun. He’s a guy that’s enjoyable to play with.

Q: How hungry are you to get out there in Detroit after how your season ended last year?

A: I think this whole team is hungry to get out there. It’s been a long time since we’ve put the pads up back in January. We’re eager to get out there, I’m eager to get out there and just play football again. We go through this whole preseason and all these practices to get out there and finally play. There’s nothing like playing a game. Again, to start out in an environment like Detroit, we know the crowd is going to be really loud. It’s going to be a competitive environment and I think that’s where we thrive. I think we have a lot of competitive players on this team including myself and we’re excited for this challenge.

Q: Will it be a little bit of a process getting on the same page as your receivers at the beginning of the season?

A: Everyone talks about midseason form and obviously that takes steps to go through. In the beginning of the season there’s going to be kinks to work out. I hope that we worked out all those kinks in the preseason. I think we have great chemistry and we expect to start off in midseason form. I don’t know if that’s reality, but our expectations are that we’re going to click from the first play in Detroit to the very last game at home versus Detroit. We expect to start off really well.

Q: How essential was the preseason focus on the passing game?

A: It’s big. We knew that during this preseason and the offseason we wanted to continue the development of our passing game and adding those new guys it was important to establish that chemistry so it was important for us. Now we just have to carry that on into this season. Having Adrian back is only going to help our passing game as well.

Q: Where are you with your offensive line in terms of communication?

A: For us, when we talk about communication it’s checking protections at the line, being able to pick up certain things that if we call a protection in the huddle well if they bring two guys from a certain side we’re not supposed to pick that up, we’re supposed to be hot. But for us now being in that next step, we can move that protection and pick those guys up and create. Everyone talks about when a defense blitzes that’s an opportunity for an offense to make big plays. That’s the communication level we’re talking about and I think it’s something that we’re doing more of this year than we have in the past because I think everyone is more comfortable with what we’re doing in our third year under coach Musgrave. That’s what we’re talking about when we’re referring to communication.

Q: Did you see Ron Jaworski’s quarterback rankings? He ranked you 27th.

A: I did not see it, no.

Q: What are your thoughts in general if you see stuff like that? Do you turn away from it, or are you curious?

A: Not really. In college I was definitely more in tune to what the media said and I think as I’ve gone through this whole process I’ve learned more and more that either way, whether it’s positive or negative, it’s not really beneficial. I don’t really pay too much attention to it. I think the 27th ranking is probably rightfully so with how I’ve played. The good thing about that is it leaves me a lot of opportunity to improve and move up in the rankings.

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier

We had a real good walk through this morning. The guys were really focused, really into it as you would expect. It’s been game week, first game of the season. I just like the mindset of our guys. We need to have a good day of practice and we are all looking forward to that this afternoon but the mindset is where it needs to be.

Q: How does Kevin Williams look?

A: He’s really improving. He’s making a lot of progress, so we are anxious to see if he’s able to do anything today. But he’s making good progress.

Q: Do you think that some of the issues the offensive line had during the preseason was just a product of the preseason and are you confident that they’ll be ready to go for week one?

A: It’s a good group of guys. The fact that they’ve been together for an entire season, that’s going to help us. They know how to prepare for a game week and I think our preparation will make a big difference in their performance this coming Sunday. I’m not overly concerned about our offensive line. I think we’re going to be fine in that area.

Q: What kind of impact do you think Reggie Bush will give the Detroit offense?

A: I think he’ll definitely add a lot to their offense. He’s another weapon for their quarterback. He does a great job of catching the ball out of the backfield and creating some mismatches for opposing defenses and he’s running the ball better. If you take a look at what he did on tape at Miami he did a good job of running the football as well. He’s a good added dimension for their offense and should be a plus.

Q: How late in the week are you going to be able to wait to see about Kevin’s injury?

A: It’ll probably be on Friday. If he’s not able to do much on Friday, then that might be a concern about whether to have him play on Sunday, but we’ll see. We’ll see how he progresses. He’s doing well so far so we’ll see how things go as the week goes on.

Q: Have you determined how much Sharrif will play if Kevin can’t?

A: Not yet. We need to see him get some practice under his belt and today will be the most extensive amount of work he’s had in quite a while. We’ll see how he does and we’ll just gauge it throughout the week.

Q: Is it fair to say you guys were a bit vanilla on offense in the preseason by not wanting to put too much out there?

A: We were vanilla in some respects but the way we’re set up, we’re not going to be very exotic when it comes to the passing game. We put a heavy emphasis on what we do in the run game. We are going to be capable of passing the football and passing it effectively. I think that we’ve improved in that area although it doesn’t always show up in the preseason. But I think that we’ll be better in that area partially because of the addition of the receivers we’ve acquired and what we do running the football. But how much different it’ll be, I don’t know if you’ll be able to tell that with that naked eye. Just the efficiency of our passing game should be better.

Q: Where is Xavier Rhodes at in your assessment after the preseason?

A: I think he’s really improved as a player as we’ve gone along. He’s still going to be young when we line up on Sunday playing against one of the all-time greats at this point in our game. So he’ll have his hands full but he’s made a lot of progress and he’ll have to go through some things this coming Sunday, but he’ll be a guy who will continue to improve as the season goes on.

Q: What are some of the things that make you expect the passing game to be more efficient?

A: I think when you have Adrian (Peterson) in the backfield that kind of clarifies some things offensively for your passing game. Some of the coverages that you see a little bit clearly defined and also what I’m seeing in practice with (Greg) Jennings along with Cordarrelle (Patterson) seeing the improvement in Jarius Wright, a healthy Jerome Simpson with Joe (Webb) coming and then watching the maturation of Christian (Ponder). I think he’s really improved also. But the number one thing is having our running back back in the backfield kind of changes things a little bit in how people approach us from a pass defense standpoint.

Q: Does Calvin Johnson remind you of Adrian in a sense that everyone knows you are going to him but he still puts up ridiculous numbers?

A: He’s a great player evidenced by the type of season he had a year ago, record setting season. He’s one of those guys who when you game plan – much like with Adrian – you have to have a plan for Calvin Johnson. He’s a tremendous player and even though you may know that he’s going o be getting the football, you can’t always stop what he does. Great player. 

Q: How much are you able to look back on how you guys did against him last year in Detroit?

A: We’ve been seeing him throughout his career in Detroit and we try to have a plan for him. You can’t completely shut him down it seems. They target him enough that he’s going to catch some balls. You’ve just got to limit those explosives and they were the leaders in the league a year ago with explosive passes and explosive plays. We’ve got to kind of limit that number and try and control him to a degree.

Q: Is it harder to game plan for a game-breaking receiver or a guy like Adrian in the backfield?

A: I kind of like having that great running back that we have. Two great players and they make it hard for any defense. They are great players and great players make plays.

Q: What areas has Matthew Stafford improved on?

A: It seems like he’s a lot more confident in what he’s doing, great command of the offense, stayed healthy last season, which had been a little bit of a problem it seemed, accuracy is pretty good, does a good job of running their offense. But his confidence, it shows on the field. He’s very confident in Calvin and their offense and now adding Bush should improve his confidence as well. But he’s a very good player.

Q: What do you think adding Reggie Bush does for Detroit?

A: I would think that Reggie Bush would improve their team. He’s been a good player in our league. He had a good season a year ago in Miami so I would think that would improve their offense and they have a very potent offense as it as and very explosive offense, but adding Reggie should help them be even better.

Q: I know you like to break the regular season into quarters. Can you evaluate the month of September for you guys?

A: I’ve thought about that but for us and where we are right now, it’s more about just this first game and really concentrating on getting this win on the road and not looking too far ahead. We need to focus on this Detroit game. It is so important the fact that this is a divisional game, this is a divisional opponent. It has tremendous meaning so that’s kind of where our focus needs to be and then we’ll look back at the end of this quarter to see where we are. But we’ve got to put all of our energy and focus on this Detroit game.

Q: What specific areas do you see the biggest improvement in with Christian?

A: The command. In the huddle, that shows up. His leadership has improved, which is important going into his third season leading our offense and also just the decision making. I thought it was better in what we did in Mankato and then when we came back at Winter Park as well and even in some of our games in the preseason. I think he’s gotten better in those areas and we’re going to need good decision making as we go forward and his leadership and command of our offense as well.

Q: Have you seen enough of Zach Line in a lead blocking role this preseason?

A: He’s really improved. He’s still not quite where we’d like for him to be, but he’s improved a lot. He was more of a runner at SMU but he showed us in the preseason, which is one of the reasons that he made our club, that he could be a good lead blocker. I think he’ll do an adequate job for us on Sunday but it’s an area that he’ll continue to work on and continue to improve on and that’s what we saw in training camp and that’s why he made our team. 

Q: Is it important to have a better man-to-man matchup with Calvin Johnson or is it a scheme thing where everybody is working towards the one goal?

A: For us, it’s going to be a collective effort when it comes to defending Detroit’s offense. It won’t be all about Chris (Cook) or Xavier (Rhodes). We’re going to have to have a lot of people making plays for us including our guys up front versus their offensive line. It won’t be one guy. It’s going to take an entire group for us to be successful. If we can get the totality of the group playing together then we’ll have a good chance on Sunday.

Q: Have you talked to Antoine Winfield about coming back?

A: No, we haven’t spoken. I texted him and just tried to encourage him. I’m hoping things go well for him.

Q: Do you think that he is completely retired?

A: I have no idea. We haven’t spoken so, really have no idea.

Q: You didn’t fly anybody there to talk to him?

A: No. When a guy’s retired, you’ve got to let him go through what he’s going through. You don’t want to be talking people out of retirement if that’s what they want to do.

Q: What do you mean by encourage? Encouraging him on his next stage of life? Or encouraging him on not giving up on football? 

A: No. Just encouraging him to be whatever he wants to be. If retirement is what it is, good luck in retirement. If you ever want to talk, let’s talk about taking that next step after your career ends because it’s a big difference from playing 15 years almost to going back to being a regular citizen. It’s a transition and a lot of players struggle with that transition. If they ever needed to talk about that, I’d be glad to have that conversation.

Q: Is there an update on Christian Ballard?

A: Not really, nothing new. I haven’t spoken to him in a while, nothing new there.

Q: How long do you have that roster exemption? 

A: If he decides he wants to come back, he’d have to go through us before he could go to another team.

Q: Do you guys have communication with him?

A: I haven’t talked with him in about a week now. He’s doing fine but that’s the extent of it.

Q: Do you assume that he’s done? 

A: I think you have to approach it that way. We’ve got to get these guys ready to play that are here and practicing every day. You’ve got to move forward.