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Frazier sticking with Ponder as Vikings QB

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Frazier sticking with Ponder as Vikings QB

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) The only passes from Christian Ponder that didn't sail over a receiver's head or bounce harmlessly out of bounds seemed to land in the arms of a Green Bay defender just as the Minnesota Vikings were approaching the end zone.

At one point, the beleaguered quarterback went nearly 39 minutes of game action without completing a pass, rendering moot another breath-taking performance from Adrian Peterson.

Yet through all the struggles, all the poor footwork and all the back-breaking mistakes that allowed a winnable road game against a division opponent to swirl down the drain, coach Leslie Frazier stuck with Ponder. And he sticks by him still.

Frazier said Monday he never considered pulling Ponder against the Packers and believes he is the QB that gives the team the best chance to win against Chicago this week.

``It hasn't come up any time this season where I thought we needed to pull him out of a game,'' Frazier said. ``That hasn't occurred.''

Frazier acknowledged such unwavering support, whether solely his decision or a result of a directive from the front office that drafted Ponder in the first round last season, has the potential to rankle other players in the locker room - players who seem to be held to a different standard of accountability.

``I've thought about that a lot because when you're struggling at a position, the guys know how we talked about everybody doing their jobs and why it's important for us to have our success,'' Frazier said. ``You don't want to send mixed messages at any position.''

The Vikings led the Packers 14-10 at halftime, jumping on Peterson's broad shoulders to move into position for a commanding lead early in the third quarter when Peterson ripped off a 48-yard run to the Green Bay 12-yard line. Ponder was intercepted in the end zone on the next play.

With Percy Harvin missing his third straight game, Ponder didn't complete a pass to a wide receiver until late in the fourth quarter. The putrid air game allowed the Packers to weather a 210-yard day from Peterson and a shaky performance from their own offense to drop the Vikings to 6-6.

Ponder's struggles were so glaring that Frazier was asked repeatedly Monday about his reluctance to play backup Joe Webb in the second half. Webb has provided a spark periodically over the past two seasons, including games at Philadelphia in 2010 and at Washington last year.

Frazier has shown a willingness to rotate players during games at other positions, including safety with Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond, and right guard with Brandon Fusco and Geoff Schwartz. But the coach said Monday he approaches quarterback with a different view, one that values continuity above all else.

``I think there's something there where in my mind you don't want to get into a situation where you're not sure who your No. 1 is,'' Frazier said. ``We believe that Christian is our No. 1. ... That being said, if things get to a point where your No. 1 is really costing you some situations that could preclude winning, you do have to do what's best for the football team.''

It's getting harder for Frazier to argue that Ponder remains the right choice for the Vikings. They started the season 5-2 thanks in part to Ponder's steady play, but have dropped four of the last five while he has crumbled.

Ponder entered the fourth quarter Sunday with just five completions in the game, all on one drive. He finished 12 of 25 for 119 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. In this pass-happy era of the NFL, Ponder has actually thrown for 76 fewer yards than Peterson has rushed for over the last six games.

For a team holding faint hopes for a playoff berth, the imbalance to the offense has been the biggest reason for its recent downfall.

The unwillingness to go to Webb, even temporarily, would seem an indictment on the depth at the position. The Vikings cut veteran Sage Rosenfels in favor of Webb and developmental quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, giving them three young and largely unproven players at the game's most important position.

Frazier said Monday the team is confident Webb would do well if called upon. But he doesn't see the need right now.

``We believe that Christian is going to continue to develop and grow and be the quarterback that we all expect him to be,'' Frazier said. ``That being said, there's a lot riding on this next ballgame for our football team, and I'm sure there are a lot of guys looking and wondering if we can get it done under the current situation. I believe we can. I believe we'll play better, not only at the quarterback position but at other positions as well. We'll need to as a team.''

NOTES: Frazier said DE Jared Allen would get an MRI after having back spasms, but expected him to be ready for the Bears. ... C John Sullivan has bruised ribs that are considered a minor injury, and it's still too early to say if Harvin's sprained left ankle will be ready to go this week.

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How does Capitals' Evgeny Kuznetsov get ready for a Game 7? He watches TV

How does Capitals' Evgeny Kuznetsov get ready for a Game 7? He watches TV

Everyone remembers Evgeny Kuznetsov's series-clinching overtime goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2018. That goal now overshadows another series-clinching goal Kuznetsov had in 2015. In Game 7 against the New York Islanders, Kuznetsov scored what would prove to be the winning goal to break up a 1-1 tie. Clearly he knows how to get ready for a big game. His secret? Television.

Kuznetsov appeared on NBC Sports Washington's Capitals Greatest Hits show on Monday to talk about his 2015 performance and the topic of the locker room came up. Both teams went into that game knowing their season was on the line and Kuznetsov was asked if the feeling was any different in the locker room before the game, a question he did not know exactly how to answer.

"I'm never in the locker room," Kuznetsov said. "I'm always by the TV watching TV shows."

Yes, when Kuznetsov arrives at the arena, he apparently likes to watch TV before the game and said he is not in the locker room until only about 30 minutes before warmups. He enjoys watching soccer, but also likes a good movie.

"It's usually soccer games," Kuznetsov said. "If it's not the soccer game, it's whatever the movie's going."

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He went on to say he was thankful for the team subscribing to whatever channel it was that he watches movies on.

If this seems odd to you, there is a method to the madness.

"Usually it's movie because that way I'm not thinking about hockey," Kuznetsov said. "I like to be loose before games."

Hey, if that's what he was doing before Game 7 in 2015 and before Game 6 in 2018, it's hard to argue against it.

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Who the Orioles could pick at No. 2 in 2020 MLB Draft, according to one expert

Who the Orioles could pick at No. 2 in 2020 MLB Draft, according to one expert

In the 2019 MLB Draft, the Baltimore Orioles took a major step toward rebuilding their roster and farm system by selecting catcher Adley Rutschman No. 1 overall. The switch-hitting backstop projects to become the cornerstone of the franchise. This year, the team can add another major piece in the 2020 MLB Draft as they have the second overall pick.

Though the draft has been shortened from 40 rounds to just five, it doesn't truly impact what Baltimore will do at No. 2. There, they will still have an opportunity to select the next piece of their future, and plenty of good options will be available.

But, unlike last year where Rutchsman was the shoo-in all along, the choices are not as clear cut in 2020. MLB Pipeline senior writer Jim Callis, who has closely studied the group of prospects, believes there are a few different ways the Orioles could go.

“I don’t think it’s a clear cut decision at No. 2 yet," Callis told MASN's Steve Melewski.

When it comes to who Callis could see Baltimore selecting, the dream-scenario would be Spencer Torkelson out of Arizona State University. However, it's considered a dream because the most likely outcome is that the Detriot Tigers will take Torkelson first overall. The first baseman has a special bat according to Callis and resembles the talent Rutschman has demonstrated at the plate.

Though there is a slim chance of it happening, the idea of those two one day sharing a lineup card in Baltimore would have the Orioles over the moon with excitement.

“To image those two guys in the middle of the lineup," Callis said. "Woo, that would be pretty exciting.”

Yet, if Torkelson does go No. 1, there is still plenty of talent available in the draft class. A name that comes to mind for Callis is Vanderbilt's Austin Martin. The position player asserted himself as a top prospect after his 2019 collegiate season in which he led the SEC in batting average (.392) and on-base percentage (.486) all while helping his team dominate the toughest conference in baseball and claim a College World Series title.

In Martin, the Orioles could be getting another reliable bat for years and years to come, one Callis claims to be the "best pure hitter in the draft." However, Martin's major area of concern is defense, as many are still unsure as to what his best position is. 

“I think there’s some questions as to where he’s gonna play," Callis said of Martin. “Is he a center fielder, a third baseman, an offensive second baseman? That’s a little unclear.”

After struggling in the infield, largely due to an inability to consistently make the throws from the left side of the diamond, Martin made the move to center field. However, due to the shortened 2020 season, he lost valuable reps in the outfield. Despite that, Callis sees that and one other option as Martin's best spot in the pros.

“My guess is he’s going to be a center fielder or second baseman," Callis said.

If the Orioles are not sold on Martin, or want to grab a player of similar skill but for a little less price, Nick Gonzales out of New Mexico State could be a fit as well. Versatile, he led the NCAA in batting in 2019 with a .423 average.

Baltimore could also decide it wants to add a pitcher at No. 2 overall, and based on how Callis views that portion of the draft class, it could be a beneficial decision. After a down year for pitchers in 2019, things look a lot better in 2020.

“[2019] was not a good year for college pitching. It was probably, I’ve been doing this for over 30 years, the worst draft I’ve seen in terms of first-round caliber college arms," Callis said. "This year, college pitching is a strength. There’s a lot of good college pitching.”

The best, according to Callis, is Texas A&M's Asa Lacy. The left-handed starter was off to a strong start to the 2020 season (3-0, 0.75 ERA) before games were canceled. The Orioles could always use another arm to one day rely upon at the Major League level, and Callis sees Lacy as the best prospect to fit that mold.

Even with Lacy's potential, the talented pitching class may sway Baltimore away from him. The Orioles also hold the No. 30 and No. 39 picks in the draft in addition to their first-round selection, and Callis has a feeling that other very good arms will be available.

“There’s gonna be really good pitchers available at 30," Callis said. "Much more so than I think the hitters that will be available at 30.”

With the draft just a couple of weeks away, Martin, Gonzales and Lacy are seen as the three most likely options for the Orioles. No matter who the team ends up selecting with the No. 2 overall pick, Callis believes that they will become a big part of Baltimore's future success. A few years down the line, the 2020 class should have a good reputation in Callis' eyes.

“It’s the first year of the decade. I would bet that we look back in history and this would be one of the top two or three draft classes of the 2020s," Callis said.

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