Sunday, May 20, 2018
Sports

Ponder, Vikings race against clock

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Christian Ponder says he needs to get rid of the ball quicker.

Charlie Johnson says the offensive line has to protect its quarterback better.

No matter whom you believe, there is no disputing that the Vikings have a lot to work on as the regular season approaches.

Ponder, the former Florida State star, was sacked five times in less than three quarters against San Diego on Friday night and never really appeared to be on the same page with an offensive line that only has two players in the same positions from last year's group.

"It takes a little bit to kind of develop that chemistry," rookie left tackle Matt Kalil said. "Getting in the playbook a little bit more to find out how far he's going to drop and when I need to step up and protect the inside. It just takes a little bit. There are things to work on and that's what preseason's about, getting better."

The only problem for the Vikings is that Ponder and many other starters won't play in Minnesota's preseason finale Thursday at Houston.

That means most, if not all, of the improvement needed ahead of the regular season opener Sept. 9 against Jacksonville will have to be made in practice.

"There's a lot of work that we need to do," coach Leslie Frazier said Sunday. "We've made tremendous strides along the way. We think we're much improved across the board on offense. But there's obviously some things we've got to get better at."

The first-team offense looked solid in the first two weeks, with Ponder looking more assured in his reads as he prepares to open his first full season as a starter and the offensive line getting used to not having veterans Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera around anymore.

Kalil was taken fourth overall in April, Johnson moved from left tackle to left guard to replace Hutchinson and Brandon Fusco is starting at right guard in place of Herrera.

The continuity dissolved in the 12-10 loss to the Chargers, with Kalil being responsible for at least one sack, Toby Gerhart having difficulty finding running room and Ponder going just 9-for-16 for 115 yards and an interception. He also looked a little indecisive at times in the pocket.

"I got myself in trouble," Ponder said. "I was getting back at the top of my drop and I was just sitting there. That puts a lot of pressure on our tackles. I've got to do a lot better job of stepping up and moving forward."

He could also use a little more help from his blockers up front and a group of receivers that are still looking to establish an identity outside of top target and former Florida star Percy Harvin.

Much of training camp has been devoted to getting the offensive line to form a cohesive unit, and there have been signs of promise and signs of struggles along the way.

The big key is getting Kalil up to speed as the man expected to protect Ponder's blindside for a decade.

"As a whole, the offensive line has played well," Kalil said.

Johnson said he didn't think Ponder deserved all of the blame.

"We need to protect for however long we need to protect, whether it's three, four, five, 10 seconds," he said. "… We want to give him as much time as possible to make plays downfield, so in that aspect it wasn't good enough."

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