MOBILE, Ala. — NFL talent evaluators, who earn their livings by finding flaws, have found a fair share in former Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder.
They wonder whether he's durable enough for the pro game, given his recent injuries. They debate whether his unspectacular arm strength can be relied upon. And they want to know whether a slight flaw in his delivery will reappear, though Ponder insists it has been corrected.
Ponder knows exactly what all those NFL types think, which brings us to the whole reason he is playing in today's Senior Bowl.
While some top-flight players will decline invitations to the predraft showcase attended by members of every NFL front office, Ponder jumped at the opportunity to change perceptions.
"It's very precious for me," Ponder said this week. "Obviously, I didn't have the senior year that I wanted, and there are a lot of questions surrounding me. It's just a heck of an opportunity for me. It's something (where) I couldn't shy away."
That senior season fell short of expectations after Ponder entered it billed as one of the nation's top quarterbacks. But an injury near his right elbow impacted his play and caused him to miss a game against Clemson. He shook off a second surgery to correct the problem to come back in time for the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Dec. 31, only to be knocked out of the game with a concussion.
Ponder still threw 20 touchdowns to eight interceptions, though he didn't have the kind of season emblematic of an elite quarterback.
"I went through a long season," he said. "It was frustrating."
But Ponder has a few things going for him. First — and most important — his good health has allowed him to play today, providing a chance to counter those who worry about his injury history. Ponder missed three games in 2009 with a shoulder, too.
"I don't think I'm injury prone," he said. "I just think it's been a couple of bad luck things, freak things. You just hope that this week can change opinions."
Ponder also is very adaptable to pro offenses. He has experience working under center rather than exclusively in the shotgun formation, as many college quarterbacks do. His mechanics seem solid, with his good footwork and a quick release — both major indicators of whether he can make the transition to the NFL. Ponder is seen as a good fit in a West Coast offense, the principles of which are a staple in many NFL schemes.
But those things didn't seem to help Ponder in the eyes of ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, who this week assessed the former Seminole:
"Average arm, super smart," he said. " … Accuracy is good. I thought he was somewhat of a poor man's Chad Pennington going into the year. I think his stock has slipped a bit. He had the injury this year he had to try to work through. I thought he was maybe a second-round pick early in the year if he would have had a real good season. I think (it will be the) third to fifth round for him."
Ponder takes heart in the fact that once he gets to the next level, opportunity is still available. He knows times have changed and young quarterbacks don't have to be top picks to see the field early in their careers. Once a team gets a sense of his leadership ability and work ethic — teams consider those among his best qualities — Ponder might earn his way onto the field.
"If you look at Colt McCoy, he's starting for the Cleveland Browns right now," Ponder said of the 2010 third-round pick. "It's all about seizing the opportunity. Wherever I get drafted, I hope I have the opportunity to show what I have and definitely take full advantage."
And where he is drafted could well be impacted by whether he takes advantage of the opportunity in the Senior Bowl.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.