Before last season, Christian Ponder's critics asserted that any improvement to the Minnesota Vikings' offensive or team success would be directly related to the second-year quarterback's improvement.
Well, Ponder improved his accuracy and decision-making, and the team won seven more games, surprisingly qualifying for the playoffs. Yet, that hasn't seemed to calm the concerns about Ponder heading into this season.
"It's tough to be in that position because there's so much spotlight and pressure," said tight end Kyle Rudolph, who has quickly developed a relationship in two seasons with Ponder. "It's not fair to single him out. There's a lot of moving parts with this team, and we all have to do our part for this offense and team to be successful."
Coming into his third training camp, Ponder remains the focus of critics. With Adrian Peterson coming off a 2,000-yard rushing season, an offensive line that returns intact and an upgraded receiving corps, some of the same hot topics are Ponder and his inconsistency.
"I have more confidence," Ponder said. "It comes with experience. Last year, we were a playoff team. That gave everyody confidence."
Last season, Ponder improved his completion percentage from 54.3 percent to 62.1 percent. He threw 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions after throwing 13 of each as a rookie. His quarterback rating rose from 70.1 to 81.2, but the Vikings passing game ranked 31st in the NFL at 171.9 yards per game as the offense was fueled by Peterson's historic season.
Ponder guided the Vikings on a season-ending, four-game winning streak that clinched a playoff berth, though he missed the postseason game with an injured elbow.
"I want to be the guy with the ball in my hand and a chance to win the game," Ponder said.
It's the inconsistency that seems to cause the concern. In the first four games and last four, Ponder completed 64.9 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and only one interception, and the team went 7-1.