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Christian Ponder will lead Minnesota Vikings in pivotal season

It's a big Year 3 coming up for Christian Ponder. I don't think it is summertime hyperbole to call 2013 a make-or-break season for the Minnesota Vikings quarterback.

While Ponder's first two years in the league have represented a roller coaster, I believe he can be a very solid NFL quarterback and the Vikings can win with him. And if you don't believe me, ask Minnesota megastar Adrian Peterson.

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Christian Ponder through the years

Take a look at photos of the Vikings quarterback during his football career.

Ponder's short career has been a riddle. Months before the 2011 NFL Draft, nobody thought he was a lock to be drafted in the first round. But Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman fell in love with his production, leadership and talent, and they picked him 12th overall. I've talked to both gentlemen at length about the pick. They were convinced.

Ponder didn't do much convincing as a rookie. He started 10 games after the Donovan McNabb experiment went south and threw 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Ponder offically became the guy last offseason, his first full NFL program and training camp after entering the league during the lockout. Hopes were high.

The Vikings started 3-1 and Ponder didn't throw a pick in the first quarter of the season. He threw the ball 26 or more times in each of the first four games, including a win against the San Francisco 49ers. The bar was raised.

And promptly lowered.

From Weeks 5-14, Ponder's play went south. He tossed at least two interceptions four times. There was a crucial three-game stretch against division foes -- the Chicago Bears (twice) and Green Bay Packers -- where Ponder committed five turnovers. He had a sub-60.0 passer rating five times.

To his credit, Ponder didn't throw a pick in the final three games. There's no arguing that Peterson, who went on to win MVP, was the reason the Vikings made the playoffs. But don't discredit Ponder, who threw four touchdowns in crucial wins against the playoff-bound Houston Texans and Packers.

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The Vikings, by outward movements, seem to remain unconvinced. While they smartly eschewed drafting another quarterback, they did bring in Matt Cassel, who was kicked to the curb by the Kansas City Chiefs. There were reports of spotty play during minicamps.

I think Cassel was brought in to push Ponder, but Cassel isn't the answer. Ponder has talent. He has leadership. He just needs to take a deep breath and trust himself. I'm not saying he's great. But I certainly know Ponder is capable of evening out his play.

The reigning MVP supports this notion.

Peterson had a great opportunity to take the high road, talk up a competition and speak in cliché when we chatted Friday on our SiriusXM "Schein on Sports" radio show. Instead, he spoke convincingly and authoritatively on Ponder.

I asked Peterson if Ponder was the guy. There was no hesitation. "He is. Christian is the starter Week 1. He is more fluent. I know he's the guy."

But what about last season's roller coaster? Peterson had a great take.

"I think during those periods of time, he was going through a little funk," Peterson explained. "I know as a player the most important thing to have is confidence and being sure what you are doing on the field. From what I was able to see, maybe it was a mixture of both, taking those hits and being a little rattled at times. But there were also those examples he was focused and played big in big games. He played big in Week 17 against Green Bay. He made a crucial throw to the left side of the field to Michael Jenkins to put us in position to win that game. That's a demonstration of what he can do on the field to help this team win."

Ponder's supporting cast is changing, too. Percy Harvin has talent, but the oft-injured malcontent was a bad fit with the Vikings, leading to a trade with the Seattle Seahawks. Now Minnesota turns to Greg Jennings, hoping the former Packers star will help stabilize Ponder. Plus, first-round burner Cordarrelle Patterson will help stretch the field.

Peterson said, "Watching (Jennings) in OTAs, his game is nice. He flows. He is going to be good for our young receivers and Christian. Greg and Christian developing that relationship, that important quarterback and receiver relationship, is really vital. They are getting it. You can see how he's going to help Christian and this team out a lot.

"I've seen a guy (Ponder) that doesn't lack leadership or the ability to take control. Even last year. He's building the confidence. It's my team and I have to be the leader. He's displaying it a lot. He displayed it last year. I like what I'm seeing."

The Vikings shocked the world with a playoff berth last season. Coming off an ACL injury, Peterson had one of the great individual seasons in sports history. Minnesota put together an excellent draft.

The future is bright for the Vikings. Christian Ponder is a reason why -- and he will prove it this year. Just ask Adrian.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein

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