Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 8/20/12
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. As Bill Musgrave remembers his playing days, he didnt have to slide very often to avoid vicious hits from opposing defenders. The Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator has been working with second-year starting quarterback Christian Ponder about the best way to slide to stay healthy while getting the most yardage possible. Ponder was beat up often during his rookie season and the Vikings wants to keep its franchise quarterback healthy. So, Musgrave went to game film from the past decade to decide which way was best to slide. During his own playing career, Musgrave was behind two of the toughest quarterbacks in the league in Steve Young and John Elway. The way Musgrave sees it, it was better to go to the game film than the limited personal experience he had. "It was hard to do a lot of diving from the sideline," Musgrave joked Monday. "I was over there in a very safe spot. In those preseason games at the end, I think I always tried to emulate the way John Elway would run. It was always easy to keep my pads down and I wanted a lot of forward lean and it just kind of turned out to be the tree kind of timbering down." Musgrave spent his final two years as a player backing up Elway in Denver and used the Hall of Famer as an example for Ponder. Musgrave prepared cut-ups of several quarterbacks and showed that sliding head-first in many cases can sometimes be a safer practice for quarterbacks, even though league rules are in place to help quarterbacks who slide feet-first. "We want to protect ourselves," Musgrave said. "When its wide-open, feet-first is fine. When the defenders are converging, we just need to get down. Weve all see the vicious hits on Trent Green and Steve Pelluer over the years. Its just a fine line that the more a quarterback plays in this league, the more that you can ascertain the speed and closing ability of these men playing defense at this level." Green and Pelluer both took some of the more brutal hits while sliding feet-first. Greens career was shortened by concussions. Pelluer took a nasty hit in 1995 from a player familiar to Ponder and Musgrave, former Chicago Bears linebacker and current Minnesota linebackers coach Mike Singletary. While the consensus in the NFL has been to have quarterbacks slide feet-first and penalties are in place for hitting quarterbacks that do slide feet-first in front of defenders, Ponder and Musgrave are going away from the common mentality. Even if hits are sometimes rewarded with penalties, the Vikings are more concerned with keeping Ponder healthy. Ponder left two games early last season due to injuries. He took a hit from Washington safety Reed Doughty on a feet-first slide in a Week 16 games in which Doughty was fined for the hit. Ponder then left the game later with a concussion after a hit from linebacker London Fletcher. He was cleared to return the following week, but left with a hip injury, which he had suffered earlier in the year. In Fridays preseason game, Ponder went head-first on a slide with defenders coming at him, picking up a key first down near the goal line and the Vikings scored a touchdown on the next play. After the game, Ponder said the head-first slide was by design. "Coach Musgrave made this cut-up about sliding head-first versus sliding feet-first and weve never seen someone get hurt sliding head first," Ponder said after the game. "So its on purpose. When you slide feet-first, youre exposing your body to get hit and like we saw at Washington and me last year, I got pretty jacked up that game. People are tweeting at me like Dude slide feet-first, what are you doing? But its a planned deal." Musgrave was pleased with Ponders decision on Friday in diving head-first, in particular because Ponder was aware of the situation. Ponder slid for the first down at the 1-yard line on third down instead of exposing himself by trying for a touchdown. "He got himself down in a timely manner," Musgrave said. "Rather than pushing that line where sometimes that line between being healthy and getting all the yards you want its almost indistinguishable. But he got himself down in a timely manner, got us a first down. If he would have had to get in the end zone, then it would have gotten a little more sticky, as we can imagine." Musgrave said its a personal preference on which way to slide, pointing out Elway and Drew Brees as two quarterbacks who prefer to slide head-first. Ponder seems to have decided on his preferred method after the instruction from Musgrave. Both are hoping the decision can keep Ponder healthy and on the field. And going head-first, Ponder still needs to use proper technique. "We dont want to expose ourselves by being a periscope up, exposing all our vital organs and all that stuff," Musgrave said. "We like to give them very minimal surface and keep our pads downs. But really get down in a timely manner." Follow Brian Hall on Twitter.
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