Paint job interrupted: 49ers throw Christian Ponder in the fire


Paint job interrupted: 49ers throw Christian Ponder in the fire

ENGLEWOOD, Col. – Christian Ponder interrupted the task of painting his house last week to make the short drive from his Phoenix house for a workout with the Arizona Cardinals.

The workout went well, in his estimations, but there was no job offer and he could see his hopes to rekindle his NFL career grow more dim the deeper it got into training camp.

“That crossed my mind,” said Ponder, 28, when asked if he thought he might not get another chance to play football.

“My plan was to stay ready for this season anyway and see what happens. If nothing happened all year, it would be time to hang it up. I was going to give myself this season and see what happens.”

But on Monday, the phone rang. And it was not the Cardinals. The 49ers called after learning veteran quarterback Thad Lewis was out for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee.

Ponder was on a flight to the Bay Area just seven hours later. He arrived Monday night, took a physical Tuesday morning, signed a contract, then traveled with his new team to Denver and participated in Wednesday’s practice against the Broncos.

“It’s been non-stop,” Ponder said. “They gave me a playbook when we got on the plane ... They threw me in the fire, which is good. That’s the best way to learn. It’s been a fun 24 hours.”

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Ponder was the No. 12 overall pick of the Minnesota Vikings in the same 2011 draft class in which the Jacksonville Jaguars selected Blaine Gabbert at No. 10 and the 49ers traded up to get Colin Kaepernick at No. 36.

He started 16 games with the Vikings in 2012, including a solid showing in a 24-13 victory over the 49ers. Ponder completed 21 of 35 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns.

“I remember that game,” Ponder said. “That was one of the best games I ever played. It was fun to be at home. That was the year (the 49ers) went to the Super Bowl, right? It was fun. It was a good game.”

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But Ponder mostly struggled through the remainder of his time with the Vikings. He started 10 games in 2013 and ’14. He signed with the Raiders in the 2015 offseason but was cut before the regular season. Last year, he spent two weeks with the Denver Broncos but did not appear in a game.

Obviously, there are not many quarterbacks with NFL experience available at this stage of training camp, but his experience is what drew the 49ers to sign him this week.

“He can step into the National Football League in a game and function,” 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said. “Coach (Chip Kelly) looked into the possibility of bringing him on last year (with the Philadelphia Eagles) before he signed with Oakland. There was a connection there.”

Also, 49ers offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins has known Ponder since his high-school days. Modkins, then an assistant on Chan Gailey’s staff at Georgia Tech, nearly landed him before Florida State signed Ponder to a letter of intent. Modkins said Ponder broke his heart.

“He’s smart. He’s athletic,” Modkins said. “He’ll be able to do the things we ask him to do and I expect him to be able to catch up to speed pretty quickly.”

Ponder, who admittedly is not in top physical condition, saw some practice time on Wednesday against the Broncos. In team drills, he completed three of eight pass attempts with one interception.

Kaepernick was held out of practice on Wednesday and might not be available for Saturday’s exhibition game against Denver. Ponder declared himself available for game action after Gabbert and rookie Jeff Driskel.

“Yeah, I’d like to play,” Ponder said. “It won’t be a full playbook. Hopefully, we come up with a plan for what I can do in the game and go out and play. It would be fun to compete and get out there.”

After all, it beats painting a house – a job that remains unfinished.

“My wife is not happy about it,” he said.

Tune in tonight at 5 & 11 p.m. when I'll discuss the latest 49ers news out of Denver on SportsTalk Live, and also on SportsNet Central at 6 & 10:30 p.m. -- all on CSN Bay Area.

Richard Sherman, 49ers defense 'light years ahead' of last season

Richard Sherman, 49ers defense 'light years ahead' of last season

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The day after Richard Sherman praised both teams for their lack of physical conflict, the re-energized 49ers defense got under the skin of the Broncos and the result was a sideline-clearing skirmish.

“If it’s clean like it was today, two teams just competing, getting after it and perfecting their craft against guys who are different, not all the fights and excess then it’s fine,” Sherman said after the first joint practice in Colorado on Friday,

Unfortunately, it got a little chippy between the 49ers' defense and the Broncos' offense during the second day of team drills.

There was pretty big hit by the 49ers defense that resulted in a tackle for a loss and tempers started to flare. The ensuing play was an incomplete pass from Drew Lock to rookie tight end Troy Fumagalli. Marcell Harris went flying across the field as a result of an apparent blind side shove and both groups tussled on the field for over 30 seconds.

Two Broncos players, receiver Brendan Langley and tight end Bug Howard were ejected from practice. Coach Kyle Shanahan said he didn’t see the melee but like anything else, he will watch the film to make sure his players were not the instigators.

“Yeah, they got into a little scuffle over there,” Shanahan said. “I actually wasn’t on the field, so I didn’t see much of it. By the time I got over there, it was pretty much broken up. I know a couple guys got sent in. I was told none of our guys threw punches, so when I see the tape, we’ll see if they were telling the truth. Hopefully, they were.”

While the 49ers' defense may not have started the fight, they decidedly are more confident this season.

“It’s light years ahead of last year,” Sherman said. “I think it’s just young guys being veterans this year. I think the experience that a lot of guys playing a lot of downs last year gave them the confidence they needed to take the next steps.

“That’s why you see our twos and threes way ahead of where they were last year and our ones light years ahead of where they were, especially with the talent. Even when you’re missing Dee Ford and [Nick] Bosa right now, we’re still making plays, we’re getting the rush, we still have the intensity."

Sherman also noted how the addition of Kwon Alexander’s high level of energy has affected second-year linebacker Fred Warner in a positive way.

“It’s huge,” Sherman said. “You see it because they are tone setters. They’re in the middle they are just about on every tackle. They can feel every pass play every run play and when they’re bringing energy I think it emulates throughout the defense. The D-line feels it, the secondary feels it. Their intensity can change the day.”

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When asked who started the fight, Sherman smiled.

"Good question. We'll just say them. It was them."

NFL fines 49ers' Adrian Colbert for hit on defenseless receiver vs. Cowboys

NFL fines 49ers' Adrian Colbert for hit on defenseless receiver vs. Cowboys

The NFL on Saturday fined 49ers safety Adrian Colbert $28,075 for his hit on a defenseless receiver in the team’s preseason opener last week against the Dallas Cowboys. Colbert was ejected from the game.

Colbert was penalized for unnecessary roughness for his hit on Cowboys wide receiver Cedrick Wilson. The league office watched the replay and disqualified Colbert from the game for targeting.

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The play occurred with less than four minutes remaining in the third quarter. Colbert played just seven snaps of defense and six plays on special teams against the Cowboys.

"You’ve got to do everything as a defender to make sure that you’re not leading with your head and be deliberate to show the refs that you are not trying to lead with your head," 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said this week. "I don’t think Adrian was trying to lead with his head.

"From an ejection standpoint, the league office decided that. I know the intent of the man. You could see it. It’s such a bang-bang play. They’re going to call it 100-percent of the time, I just don’t know about the ejection. I’m still trying to learn that one.”