2014 is a new beginning for the Minnesota Vikings organization. A new head coach and coaching staff brings a fresh start and a clean slate for a team that has gone 18-29-1 in the past three seasons. Some players that still remain on the team will also be given another opportunity to prove that they can help the Vikings succeed.
One of those players is quarterback Christian Ponder. Entering his 4th season in Minnesota, and the last year of his contract, this is really the last season in which Ponder will be able to prove to the Vikings that he lead the team.
If you asked Vikings fans, many of them would tell you that Ponder has already gotten his fair share of chances and he doesn’t deserve any more. But with the addition of offensive coordinator Norv Turner, Ponder finally gets a change that could help both him and the team.
Throughout his assistant and head coaching career, Turner has gained a reputation as being an offensive mastermind. His tactics have been used time and time again to vastly improve a team’s offense, especially in the passing game.
During his 23 years, an offense led by Turner has ranked in the top 10 in passing yards 11 times, including 4 out the past 6 years. In the last 7 seasons, Turner’s offenses have finished in the top 5 in points scored five times.
A strength of Turner’s has been his ability to adapt his schemes with whoever is running his offense. Last season in Cleveland, journeyman quarterback Jason Campell threw for an average of 223.9 yards per game in 9 games in Turner’s offense. That was almost 30 yards more than his career average.
In 2006, Turner spent his only season in San Francisco as the 49ers offensive coordinator. During that season, his tactics helped 49ers quarterback Alex Smith increase his yards passing per game by more than 80 yards and increase his passing touchdowns by 15 from the previous season.
Needless to say, Turner’s offenses are designed for quarterbacks to succeed. So if Ponder cannot succeed with Turner calling the shots, then his time with the Vikings will be over, and so could his time in the NFL.
Ponder has been under center in Minnesota for the past three seasons, and in each of those seasons his offensive coordinator has been Bill Musgrave. The 2014 season will be the first season in which Ponder will be hearing someone else call the plays. He should definitely have a sense of relief since Musgrave did absolutely nothing to help Ponder succeed.
Why Musgrave was even hired by the Vikings is question that will never be answered. As the offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars, Musgrave’s offenses ranked no higher than 21st in scoring. Yet somehow he was hired to lead the offense in Minnesota.
Musgrave’s time in Minnesota didn’t prove to be much different than his time in Carolina and Jacksonville. In the past three seasons, the Vikings offense averaged rankings of 27th in passing yards and 23rd in passing touchdowns. In that same time period, Turner’s offenses had an average ranking of 14th and 10th in those two categories.
Musgrave’s offenses have been known to not be geared towards the quarterback. Since Minnesota is the home of the NFL’s best running back in Adrian Peterson it seemed like a good fit. However, the Vikings decided to draft a quarterback in the first round of the 2011 draft.
Minnesota was hoping that Musgrave could help develop Ponder into a game changing quarterback. However it seemed as though not much effort was made on the side of Musgrave. Instead of adjusting his offense to fit the skills of Ponder, Musgrave was stubborn and stuck to his schemes, forcing Ponder to call plays that were of no benefit.
New Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has been interviewed numerous times since his hiring in January and has been praised for his ability to do whatever it will take to win. Zimmer has expressed that he doesn’t want his team to have one set offense or defense. He would rather come up with tactics to hone his current players’ strengths and hopefully lead Vikings to victories.
This mindset will benefit many current players on the Vikings roster and Ponder could be one of the players that shows the most improvement next season due to the changes that have been made in Minnesota. The work is being put in on the coaches side to help Ponder succeed, now he also needs to put in the time, work, and effort needed to succeed as well.