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Christian Ponder and his two snaps

8/11/2013

So I found myself in a bit of a Twitter discussion Saturday about the brief appearance of quarterback Christian Ponder in the Minnesota Vikings' preseason opener. Ponder got only two snaps in the Vikings' 27-13 loss to the Houston Texans, prompting some of you to wonder why he didn't get more work and others to express exasperation about the relevance of preseason playing time.

Ultimately, the debate -- such as it is -- boils down to how you view Ponder. If you consider him an established NFL starter, then the extent of his preseason work has limited value. (Even if, as Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com pointed out, he got fewer snaps than any NFL quarterback who started in Week 1.)

On the other hand, if you see Ponder as something short of a proven player, then it's fair to wonder why the Vikings didn't adjust their pre-game plan when his second pass glanced off receiver Jerome Simpson's hands for an interception. That play ended the Vikings' first series, after which coach Leslie Frazier removed most of the first-team offense.

Afterwards, Frazier told reporters that "we really need to look at some other guys and find out who's going to be able to help out our football team" and added: "We'll have time to evaluate our ones in the next couple of weeks."

Ponder will play much more this preseason, probably into the second quarter Friday at the Buffalo Bills and then at least a half Aug. 25 at the San Francisco 49ers. And it's also important to note that a quarterback's playing time impacts other players. The longer the quarterback plays, for example, the more time the starting offensive line must be on the field -- further exposing those players to injury and limiting important development time for backups.

At the same time, I don't think anyone would have blinked had Frazier adjusted his one-series mandate after the interception. One unquestioned value of the preseason is working in game conditions with new teammates, and Ponder didn't have time to throw a single pass to receivers Greg Jennings or Cordarrelle Patterson.

In the end, the Vikings gave more playing time to their proven backup -- Matt Cassel played 29 snaps -- than they did to the rest of the quarterbacks combined. I can only assume the young players Frazier wanted to see were offensive linemen and tight ends. After all, there is no need to "evaluate" Cassel. And yes: prioritizing line depth over starting quarterback development is as debatable as it sounds.

Assuming Ponder doesn't play in the fourth preseason game, as is the case for most starters, he will get parts of two games to work with Jennings and Patterson in game conditions and otherwise fine-tune for the regular season. Again, the value there is minimal for an established starter. It's more important for a player who is still trying to find his footing in the NFL.

Frazier quite clearly classifies Ponder in the former category, and I'm not going to go to the mat in suggesting otherwise. I will say this: If you're willing to end a quarterback's preseason appearance after two plays, you're in essence saying he doesn't need any work. If that's the case, why play him at all?