TALLAHASSEE — Back in the day at Florida State, quarterback Christian Ponder wouldn't have been in position to spend spring practice trying to win the starting job.
Not as a rising third-year sophomore with little experience. Not with incumbent Drew Weatherford, the ex-Land O'Lakes High standout, back for a fifth year.
But this is a different day.
The Seminoles, who wrap up spring ball with the Garnet & Gold game tonight, need more production from quarterbacks than they've had in recent years, which has intensified competition. And that would have been the case even had Weatherford not missed a good chunk of the spring after tearing the meniscus in his right knee last month.
"I'm sure he's got an opportunity to make his case," coach Bobby Bowden said of Ponder.
Actually, it's more like an opening statement to Bowden, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jimbo Fisher and the rest of the staff.
"I've definitely progressed a lot," Ponder said. "I'm much more comfortable."
The 6-foot-2, 212-pound Ponder appeared in just one game last season, at Virginia Tech, when Weatherford left with a concussion and Xavier Lee was left behind in Tallahassee for missing too many classes.
Against a defense that finished the season fourth in the nation, Ponder showed his big-play ability, helping the Seminoles rally from a 20-6 halftime deficit to take a 21-20 lead.
He finished 8-of-18 for 105 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in the 40-21 loss. And he had 51 yards on five carries.
But it's hard to build upon that solely on the practice field when you're running with the second-team offense. Ponder has been on the first team since Weatherford's injury.
"With comfort comes confidence, and that's a huge thing in playing quarterback," he said. "That's the huge change for me."
"I think he's really showing me that he can play," Fisher said recently. "He gets out there against the (first-team defense) and is making plays and reads."
While Bowden and Fisher praised Weatherford for virtually eliminating mistakes (he had three interceptions last season, down from 11 in 2006), they have challenged the quarterbacks to throw more touchdowns.
Weatherford had just nine, Lee five and Ponder one. The last time FSU had fewer touchdown passes was 11 in 2004. By comparison, in 2000, Chris Weinke's final season, the Seminoles had 36.
"He's doing some good things with the ball. He looks like he can drill it if he has to, and he can lay it up if he has to," Bowden said of Ponder, adding he has been impressed with his running ability, too.
Dazzling athletic ability, throwing and running the ball, is why the coaches are high on fellow rising redshirt sophomore D'Vontrey Richardson. He appeared in two games last season, both on designed runs. But at this time last year, he was on the baseball field as an outfielder.
"I've learned a lot just in this short amount of time," he said.
"I think the good news is that both of them have gotten a lot of work they normally wouldn't have gotten," Bowden said. "I think they have both improved right along with it."
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