Redskins

Struggling Ponder keeps upbeat, confident attitude

Struggling Ponder keeps upbeat, confident attitude

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) Through 22 games started, Christian Ponder isn't close to where the Minnesota Vikings need him to be.

The quarterback they've been counting on to build a contender around has repeated costly mistakes and shown persistent mechanical problems when many of his NFL peers are ascending to another level. As for how many more weeks Ponder needs before his skill set is established and the Vikings can determine whether he's truly a cornerstone of the franchise for years to come, that's difficult to tell.

But people are becoming impatient, and that includes Ponder.

``I hope not that long. Hopefully as soon as possible. I don't really know. I think it's hard to establish a timeline like that,'' Ponder said. ``Every player is different. Obviously I want to get to that consistent level as soon as possible.''

Even leaving out the top-two draft picks of the last two years, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, second-year starters like Andy Dalton and rookies like Russell Wilson have been outperforming Ponder. The 12th overall selection in 2011 from Florida State had one of his worst games last Sunday, throwing two crippling second-half interceptions deep in Green Bay territory that led to Minnesota's 23-14 loss. Ponder didn't pass the 100-yard mark until the final, desperation drive.

Comparisons to other quarterbacks around his age, though, are not part of Ponder's process.

``I know I could be playing better and I want that level of success. Whether other players are playing better or not, I have my own expectations for myself regardless of what they're doing,'' he said.

Ponder called his performance a ``wake-up call'' to change the way he's been playing.

``Especially where we are in the season and with the goals that are in our hands, I've got to make sure that I give our team a chance to be successful,'' Ponder said.

He called those picked-off passes ``pretty obvious and pretty dumb.'' Learning to relax enough so he can settle in the pocket without shuffling around, properly step into his throws and be unafraid to fire balls into tight windows is part of what he's still working on. He also must be wise and careful enough not to be casual about throwing into dangerous places in critical situations, like he did into the back of the end zone on his first interception against the Packers.

Ponder, though, insisted again he still has the confidence he showed in September, despite decisions and body language on the field that might suggest otherwise from time to time. Ponder said he was happy to have the public backing of coach Leslie Frazier and a positive post-game pep talk from running back Adrian Peterson, but he also said the encouragement wasn't necessary.

Wide receiver Jerome Simpson, whose speed on the outside was supposed to help Ponder develop into a better deep thrower, came to his quarterback's defense.

``I've got a lot of confidence in Christian. He's going to bounce back and have a great game,'' Simpson said. ``That guy, he's a tough guy, man. A lot of added pressure gets put on him that shouldn't be. A lot of criticism shouldn't be put on him. We all make mistakes. I guess that's just the nature of being a quarterback.''

Frazier said he believes Ponder has done what he can to put himself in the right mental state to succeed.

``We see some things where he's definitely gotten better from a season ago. We saw it throughout the offseason. We've seen it during this season. There are still some areas where we know he has to improve. He knows he has to improve. The clock is still ticking on his improvement and development, and that's part of evaluating the quarterback position,'' Frazier said. ``But we are not at a point where we're going to throw in the towel on Christian Ponder.''

If Sunday's game against Chicago were to get out of hand, hypothetically, Frazier said he's not afraid or limited in authority to switch to backup Joe Webb, as he did once last December at Detroit when injuries and turnovers were plaguing Ponder.

``I can make those changes throughout the course of the game without having to get that red phone and put a call in to New York or wherever,'' Frazier said, smiling.

So maybe this week will be different, with the Vikings playing at home against a banged-up Bears team.

``No greater time than right now,'' Frazier said.

Ponder has had plenty to celebrate, actually, despite this rocky stretch. He confirmed Wednesday his engagement this week to ESPN reporter Samantha Steele, whom he began dating earlier this year. With a smile, he declined to provide any more specifics.

There's work to do, after all.

``After a bad game, I'm even more excited to come back to work the next week and the next day just so I can get it put behind me,'' he said. ``I keep my confidence up.''

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Early returns show solid Redskins squad, with potential for more

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USA TODAY Sports

Early returns show solid Redskins squad, with potential for more

More than 100 days remain before the Redskins take the field in meaningful NFL action.

Any and all excitement needs to be tempered, significantly, because what happens on a practice field in May without pads does not represent what will happen in September, October and beyond. 

Still, the Redskins group that took the field this week for OTAs showed promise. 

New quarterback Alex Smith looked crisp, connecting with a variety of wideouts and commanding the huddle. New wideout Paul Richardson made the best play of the session when he streaked down the field past rookie cornerback Greg Stroman and hauled in a deep pass from Smith. The play showed Smith's ability to identify open receivers downfield, as well as Richardson's ability to go up and grab a contested catch. Even Stroman, the seventh-round rookie, positioned himself well, he just fell victim to a perfect pass and tremendous athleticism.

That was only one play in a two-hour session. Again, don't take too much from May, when players don't wear pads or engage in any of the violence that the NFL is predicated upon. But the OTAs do serve a purpose, both for players and coaches, and there were nuggets to absorb and try to project for the fall. Here they are:

  • Jay Gruden made clear he's not concerned about the health of his offensive line. Trent Williams and Morgan Moses are recuperating from offseason surgery, but Gruden believes both are on track for when things start to matter. It's a good thing the coach isn't concerned because this was the 'Skins line in OTAs (left to right): Geron Christian, Shawn Lauvao, Chase Roullier, Brandon Scherff, John Kling. Should that lineup take the field this fall, there will be trouble. 
     
  • The Redskins lost Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland this offseason, and the secondary depth will be something to watch throughout training camp. At OTAs, newly signed veteran cornerback Orlando Scandrick lined up opposite Josh Norman in the team's base 3-4 defense. In nickel and dime coverage, Quinton Dunbar lined up opposite Norman and Scandrick moved to the slot. As things progress, it will be interesting to see if Dunbar surpasses Scandrick in base coverage, and what becomes of 2017 third-round pick Fabian Moreau. Stay tuned.  
     
  • Rookie running back Derrius Guice looked every part of the first-round talent many judged him to be before draft season rumors caused him to slide to the late second round. Guice cuts with authority and is able to see holes before they form and patiently wait to hit the open space. Guice also looked fine in pass-catching drills, one area that was a question coming out of LSU (but that says more about LSU's prehistoric offense). Watching the Redskins offense work, it seems clear Guice will be the heaviest used runner this fall.
     
  • That said, don't count out Robert Kelley. He looks leaner and plenty quick, showing a few impressive runs during the session. Byron Marshall also looked good, and Gruden pointed out his success in his post-OTA press conference. The running back group will have plenty of competition all the way through Richmond. 
     
  • Jonathan Allen has switched jersey numbers from 95 to 93. Rookie Daron Payne is now wearing 95. Payne and Allen both went to Alabama, both are huge, and both play defensive line. The number switch will take some getting used to. 
     
  • Zach Brown missed the OTA session as he was moving, and interestingly in his spot with the starting defense was Josh Harvey-Clemons. The second-year pro out of Louisville showed impressive speed in coverage, and remember he played safety in college and performed quite well. He has ball skills and great size to be a coverage linebacker. Some were surprised when the Redskins kept JHC last season at the cut to 53, but his development appears to be paying off for the organization. 
     
  • Another linebacker that made a play was Zach Vigil. He impressed for the Redskins late last season and was running the Washington second-team defensive huddle. At one point, Vigil broke through the line of scrimmage and blew up a run play. That prompted D.J. Swearinger to yell from the sideline, "OK Zach. OK ZACH!"
     
  • Speaking of Swearinger, the Redskins defensive captain seemed in midseason form when it comes to yelling encouragement on the field. Nobody hypes up the defense like Swearinger, particularly when the secondary makes a big play. On one pass Dunbar made a nice diving play to break up a pass, and Swearinger and Josh Norman got very fired up, shouting and jumping around. The entire defense responded. Little stuff like that helps disrupt the monotony of offseason work. 
     
  • Jamison Crowder looks jacked and quick. The end. 

 

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

The Capitals are the Eastern Conference Champions!

After dispatching Tampa Bay in Game 7, the Caps claimed the conference crown for just the second time in franchise history. But they're not done yet. Now it's on to Vegas to face the Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup.

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir break down the Caps' win over the Lightning and look ahead to the matchup with the Knights.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.