EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. As a proud Florida State University alum, Vikings rookie quarterback Christian Ponder enjoys playing up the rivalry between his Seminoles and the University of Florida.
Ponder called the Gators his biggest rival while in college. He's looking forward to this week's matchup with former Florida, and second-year Denver Broncos quarterback, Tim Tebow.
"Obviously my archrival from the University of Florida," Ponder joked Wednesday. "But no, he's playing really well."
Ponder makes his sixth NFL start on Sunday when Minnesota hosts Denver. Tebowmania has been in full swing since Tebow took over as the Broncos' starter six games ago and has gone 5-1 helping propel Denver into playoff contention.
Due to injuries, Ponder missed the annual Florida-Florida St. game twice in Tebow's time with the Gators. The one time they were on the field together is one Ponder would likely rather forget. Dealing with another injury, Ponder was 5 for 14 passing and threw two interceptions in a 45-14 loss to Florida.
"I didn't practice the whole week that game and then I had like a lower-back deal that game and only played in the first half," Ponder said. "And he beat us, so ..."
Tebow was 3-0 all-time against Florida State and Ponder finally beat Florida last year when Tebow was a rookie for the Broncos.
In the NFL, the two are still trying to prove they are the longtime answers for their respective franchises at the most important position.
"I just think we'll both go and try to live out our dream and play quarterback in the NFL and I wish him nothing but the best," Tebow said. "He did a good job at FSU and we were definitely rivals, but we've still got along and he's got the talent and character to be a good quarterback in this league and I believe he'll do that."
Denver traded up to acquire Tebow in the 2010 draft, using the 25th overall selection on a player many didn't think could pan out as an NFL quarterback. Even while he is winning, there are still critics who don't believe he can be a long-term answer for the Broncos.
Denver has revamped its offensive approach since installing Tebow as the starter six games ago, playing to his strengths as a runner in an option-style offense.
His throwing motion and accuracyare still in question, but he's 5-1 as a starter this season, has six touchdowns four rushing, two passing and 122 offensive touches without a turnover. Tebow's 22 carries in last week's 16-13 overtime win at San Diego were the most by a quarterback in NFL history.
Broncos coach John Fox isn't worried if he has his future starter at quarterback. He has a quarterback on the cusp of the playoffs this season.
"I've been doing this a long time, but this game's a lot more fun when you win," Fox said. "Part of coaching is putting your players in positions and utilizing them to their strengths. I think we're doing that with Tim. As far as the future, I don't look it as any different than left offensive tackle, right guard, running backs. The future is now and it's kind of what this league's built on."
The future is also now for Ponder, who's had a mix of success since taking over in week seven for former starter Donovan McNabb.
The No. 12 overall pick this year, Ponder has a 72.6 quarterback rating and has completed just 53.9 percent of his passes. He's thrown six interceptions while Minnesota is 1-4 in his five starts. He's also made clutch plays with his arm and his feet and shown rare composure for a rookie, giving the Vikings hope they have quarterback of the future.
"I believe he is," Frazier said. We still have five more games in our season to go where we can continue to evaluate his progress. But he's done some things in these starts that he's had to give you hope he's a guy that's going to continue to grow and develop and learn.
"So we'll see what happens after these next five games. All indications are he's going to be the answer for our future long-term at quarterback. We're not going to have to be looking for a quarterback you know two years from now or even a year from now. He's done some really good things from my observation."
Ponder and Tebow have arrived at this matchup by using two vastly different styles. While Tebow is a year ahead of Ponder and has had the team success this season, Ponder is still thought of as more of a prototypical NFL passer.
Fox said it's hard to compare the two because of the different styles, but he does see one similarity.
"I've been impressed with what I've seen," Fox said of Ponder. "He can beat you with his feet too, as far as scrambling, extending downs and he has done that. I think the young man's done an excellent job."
Ponder has shown a willingness to run in his rookie season with 18 carries for 140 yards in his two games, but he's not ready to run 22 times in a single game like Tebow did last week.
"I can't imagine that," Ponder said. "He's tough though. He's done it his whole life and did it all at Florida and he's very effective running the ball."
E.J. Henderson misses practice: Linebacker E.J. Henderson was missing from Wednesday's practice and the injury report listed him with a shoulder injury. Frazier wasn't available to discuss the injury.
Running back Adrian Peterson was still held out of practice with a high ankle sprain and his status for Sunday is in question.
"You want to make sure that he can protect himself; that he can get out of trouble," Frazier said. "If the hole is closed and he can bounce and do the things he's ordinarily done. If he can't do that in our evaluation we can't put him out there. He's too valuable to our organization and our team."
Frazier clarified some of the injuries regarding the players placed on season-ending injured reserve on Tuesday.
Safety Tyrell Johnson tore his hamstring off the bone and was scheduled to have surgery on Wednesday. Frazier said it was a six-month recovery time. Johnson had started two straight games for Husain Abdullah, who was also placed on injured reserve as he still tries to recover from a concussion.
Receiver Michael Jenkins suffered a torn meniscus and will have surgery this week. Long snapper Cullen Loeffler has a sacrum fracture in his lower back.