As the Vikings shift their focus towards the 2013 season this week with mandatory Organized Team Activities, expectations are higher than ever. For a team that posted a franchise best turn around in their record (going 3-13 in 2011 to 10-6 in 2012), the internal bar is set to a repeat performance and great, making the playoffs and advancing.
But not everyone is convinced. As a recent Vikings.com article pointed out, pundits in the national media have identified the Vikings as a team that's not expected to even have a winning record in 2013 (an over/under on wins is set at 7.5), to the only NFC team to not make a repeat appearance in the playoffs. For a team that only got better as the 2012 season wore on, such a step back would be surprising to Vikings fans and personnel alike.
But if you ask Vikings linebacker, Chad Greenway, what will prevent that reversion, he smiles and instantly brings up quarterback Christian Ponder as a player who has advanced since last year, and shown enough improvement to help the team do even better than last year. "Christian is going to take a big step this year" Greenway said in a recent interview, "Yes, a VERY big step! He's such a smart little guy, isn't he?! Who's big? You are!! You're SOOOO BIIIGG!"
Greenway isn't the only person who has seen improvement in Ponder this offseason. Ask head coach Leslie Frazier who has changed the most in the past year, and he jumps straight to Ponder, too.
"Oh, Christian has definitely changed, definitely most different," the coach says. "You should see how big he's grown, in just a year! He's already out there walking around now, all on his own, no adult to lean on or anything. And he's almost forming words now, too, almost able to call a real play in the huddle. I mean, he still gets some of his sounds mixed up, which is why you'll see him try to hand a ball off to Peterson to the left, when Peterson heard that the play was to go right, but that's expected development for such a young kid. We call them growing pains, at home. But man, they grow up so fast, don't they?"
Even the rookies have taken notice. First year receiver, and first round pick, Cordarelle Patterson, recently talked about his experience working with Ponder during this team activities. As a neophyte himself, he knows he's the young pup of the crowd. As such, he's looked to Ponder in awe.
"It's amazing, really," Patterson said after a recent practice. "You look around and you see these grizzled old men, these veteran NFL players like Adrian Peterson, Kevin Williams, Jared Allen, and they're just so scary and intimidating, especially to a baby faced player like me. And then you get to work with Ponder, and it's like he's more open, you know? More innocent to the game, almost. Always smiling, oo-ing and aw-ing at things, just like I am. It makes him really relatable."
Time will tell if Ponder really is the key development for the team during this offseason that will lead them to success next year. But If anyone would be able to do it, even Adrian Peterson thinks it would be Ponder. "Last year, in his second year, we called them the 'Terrible Twos'," Peterson shared, "Because it was his second year, and that was as far as he could throw it, two yards. But in his third year? Hey, he's got big boy diapers on now. He's got to be potty trained. Time to lose the pacifier, stop sucking your mommy's tit, and play some big boy football. I'd like to give him some advice on how to take that next step, but I never had to. I was always playing at this level, so I don't know what to say. Stop being a baby, I guess."
We'll see if those sage words pay off.
*NOTE: This is satire! People - for the most part - did not actually say this. Don't sue us.