By: Sam Ekstrom | KFAN.com
Christian Ponder’s struggles last season were tough to ignore, but it’s fair to say the team’s lack of depth at receiver was partially to blame.
Following the offseason acquisitions of two-time Pro Bowler Greg Jennings and highly-touted rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, Ponder finally has a complete group of receivers to throw to.
The third-year quarterback spoke with KFAN Radio Wednesday about his excitement for the new pass-catchers.
“We have a lot of the right pieces in place,” said Ponder. “We know that we have a lot of great players. We have a lot of talent. We have a lot of potential.”
With the departure of Percy Harvin to Seattle, Jennings—acquired from Green Bay—becomes the new focal point of the passing game. Ponder expressed how nice it will be to have the former Packer in purple and gold this year.
“He’s an outstanding receiver,” said Ponder. “We saw him every year, twice, playing against us, and he scored a lot of touchdowns and made a lot of catches. It will be exciting for us to have him on our side of the field.”
Entering his eighth year as a pro, the veteran Jennings will also be looked to as a mentor for the rookie Patterson and second-year receiver Jarius Wright.
Said Ponder, “He’s just very knowledgeable of the game. He’s got great leadership skills. He’s rubbing off on the other receivers. We have a young group of receivers behind Greg and he’s trying to give as much knowledge to those guys and you can tell they’re soaking it up.”
Patterson may be the most raw, yet intriguing, of the Vikings’ draft picks. His possession skills have been compared to Percy Harvin’s and his length has been measured against a young Randy Moss.
“He’s come in and I think he’s learned a lot,” said Ponder of the rookie. “I think Greg [Jennings] has really spent a lot of time with him. Coach Stewart, our receivers’ coach, has spent a lot of time with him. You can tell it’s starting to click for him.”
“We’ve seen a lot from him during practice. He’s a big-time receiver. He’s a bigger guy. He runs great routes. He’s got great stick on his moves. He can get downfield. He’s pretty much everything you want in a receiver.”
Another player who should benefit from Jennings’ presence is Jerome Simpson. The former Cincinnati Bengal signed an incentive-laden one-year contract with Minnesota last year, but suffered through a season marred by suspension and injury. Ponder thinks year two will be different.
“We expect he’s going to get better,” said Ponder. “He started coming along toward the end of the season and his confidence was starting to build.”
“He’s still learning. It was his first year in the offense last year after being in an offense at Cincinnati for four or five years, so there’s some sort of transition and learning curve there.”
Obviously, much of the receiving corps’ success will be placed on the right arm of Ponder. The former first-round draft pick was 23rd in touchdown passes, 25th in passing yards, and 31st in yards per attempt last season, leaving lots of room for improvement.
The quarterback admits that having extra weapons raises the bar.
“We have high expectations for the team,” said Ponder. “I have high expectations for myself and expect to make some improvement. We have put a lot of the right pieces in place around me, so there really is no excuse to not progress.”