Quarterback Christian Ponder has spent spring practice in a far different position than at any time in his Florida State career.
Unlike last year when he was competing for the starting job with Drew Weatherford and D'Vontrey Richardson, Ponder knew he was solidly entrenched atop the depth chart.
"I'm definitely a lot more comfortable," the fourth-year junior said. "But I still lit a fire under myself. … I came into this spring knowing I had a lot to improve upon."
Entering tonight's annual Garnet and Gold game, a glorified scrimmage that doesn't even culminate the spring (FSU has a couple of practices scheduled for next week), Ponder has shown a newfound confidence that comes with job security to go with the same old competitive drive. And for the most part, he and the offense have regularly snapped off big plays.
"He looks like he's going to be the real deal," coach Bobby Bowden said.
Of course, hope springs eternal for every player, for every team, for every coach. Still, Ponder seems to be blossoming with each and every passing play and day.
He stood out during FSU's offseason conditioning program, scoring high enough in the five individual drills that he earned a "black shirt" after each workout. That said something about how hard he was willing to work … even in a steamy gym with only his teammates and coaches watching and not 80,000 fans.
"He was the top of the list every day," Bowden said. "Every day."
"I had the mind-set that I had to get better, that I had to push myself and be a leader," Ponder, 21, said.
He then carried that approach to the practice field, where he and the rest of a still young offensive unit needed to focus on the finer points of offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher's scheme to rack up more points in 2009. More than that, it's developing more of a trust in one another.
Ponder is the first to admit he had to learn to trust that his line would protect him for that extra second so he could find his receiver and not tuck the ball away and run.
"Last year, sometimes, I put us behind the eight ball and not in the best situation," said Ponder, who has had more reps than he would have had were it not for freshman E.J. Manuel's injury that left him as the lone healthy scholarship quarterback. "I've worked hard this spring to improve my reads and improve the things I need to improve upon."
When linemen see he has the confidence in them to hang in the pocket, that enhances their trust and makes them work harder. Ditto for the receivers and backs.
"The whole chemistry of the team and the trust has improved a whole lot," Ponder said.
"He has all the throws, he has a good touch and he's learning more and more every day what to do," Bowden said. "That's what separates the good quarterbacks. … He's getting it. He's getting it."
Purdue: Quarterback Justin Siller has been dismissed from school through 2009-10 for an academic violation.
The redshirt sophomore from Detroit was expected to compete with fifth-year senior Joey Elliott for the starting job next season.
Siller started three games last season, including his first start against Michigan when he led the Boilermakers to a 48-42 win and was the Big Ten's offensive co-player of the week.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Brian Landman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3347.