Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 7/10/12
This is the first in a series of 13 previews leading up to the Minnesota Vikings' July 27 start of camp. July 10: Quarterbacks July 11: Running backs July 12: Wide receivers July 13: Tight ends July 16: Offensive linemen July 17: Defensive linemen July 18: Linebackers July 19: Safeties July 20: Cornerbacks July 23: Specialists July 24: Coaches July 25: 5 things to accomplish in camp July 26: Fans' guide to camp TODAY'S POSITION: QUARTERBACKS Rating (1-to-10 scale): 4 Projected starter: Christian Ponder (second year) Backups (asterisks indicate players expected to make the roster): McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Sage Rosenfels, Joe Webb The breakdown: On a team full of current and former Pro Bowl players such as Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen, Percy Harvin, Chad Greenway, Antoine Winfield and Kevin Williams, Ponder is the most important piece to the Vikings' puzzle. And it really isn't even close. Ponder represents Minnesota's present and hope for the future, but he's also the biggest unknown heading into the 2012 season. The Vikings' staff has hitched its reputation to the 2011 first-round pick in trying to move past the aura of Brett Favre and the failed experiment of Donovan McNabb. In the first post-Brad Childress draft, Ponder was taken with the 12th overall pick and immediately deemed the quarterback of the future. That future came earlier than expected after McNabb's failures, and Ponder's importance hasn't changed. When given the chance, Ponder offered excitement and reason for pause during an inconsistent rookie year. He flashed on to the scene coming off the bench in a road game against Chicago and nearly led Minnesota to an upset of the Green Bay Packers in the Metrodome during his first start. The next week, he helped the Vikings win at Carolina, but Ponder's season was mostly downhill from there. He had a 70.1 quarterback rating and a 54.3 completion rate and threw was many touchdowns as interceptions (13 each). But Ponder lost the benefit of an offseason program due to the lockout. And losing first-team snaps to McNabb in training camp slid Ponder further down the learning curve. Coach Leslie Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman point to Ponder's league-leading 114.3 quarterback rating in the red zone to show his knack for making the right play and being able to focus in the most critical situations. Both believe his recognition all over the field will improve in his second year in offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's offense and with a full offseason program under his belt. Ponder has put in a lot of extra work this offseason with Musgrave, watching film from last season and learning from mistakes. He's seemingly done his part in the classroom. Now the question is whether that work can transfer to the field. After a sluggish start during organized team activities this summer, Ponder said things began to slow down for him as OTAs and minicamp ended. The Vikings desperately need Ponder to succeed because Webb, despite his athletic ability, is still very raw as a quarterback entering his third season. Like Ponder, Webb has shown flashes of ability, but most of that has been done with his legs, scrambling for yardage and keeping plays alive. Rosenfels mainly sticks as a mentor to Ponder and Webb. In the end, it really all comes down to Ponder harnessing his ability and intelligence and turning into the quarterback the Vikings hoped for in last year's draft. Best position battle: Frazier doesn't believe there is much of a position battle among the quarterbacks. He's already declared Ponder the starter and said Ponder isn't facing any competition from Webb for that role. Webb is also the clear-cut backup, for now, committing full-time to the position after periods of being worked in at wide receiver. Rosenfels is the veteran influence on Ponder and Webb, entering their second and third years, respectively. If there is any competition it could be Bethel-Thompson having a surprising camp and maybe working himself into the team's plans, although that seems highly doubtful. If Webb doesn't show enough as a full-time quarterback, maybe the team revisits a position change again or elevates Rosenfels to the No. 2 spot. But aside from a dramatic change of opinion or performance, or injury, one through three is set for the Vikings. Ranking against the rest of the NFC North: 1. Packers; 2. Lions; 3. Bears; 4 Vikings. In a division full of elite, Pro Bowl-level quarterbacks, Ponder needs to build up enough experience to catch up. The Packers feature MVP Aaron Rodgers. The Lions' Matthew Stafford put together his first fully healthy season and was third in the league with 5,038 passing yards. Chicago's Jay Cutler was limited to 10 games because of injuries, but he's been to a Pro Bowl and has passed for more than 4,500 yards in a season. Meanwhile, Ponder had as many interceptions as TD passes (13) and a 70.1 quarterback rating. Ponder has promise for the future, but the future is now for the rest of the division. Frazier says: "We're going into it with Christian being our starting quarterback. If something were to happen to Christian because of injury, we feel like we have a capable backup in Joe. But there's no competition as to, Joe has to do this to beat out Christian.' Christian, it's his job. We're trusting that he's going to be the guy to lead us to where we want to go this next season. And we think we have a capable guy if something were to happen to Christian, that Joe could step in and do a real good job for us." Follow Brian Hall on Twitter.
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