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Ponder aims to validate No. 12 pick, hopes to 'start right away'

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Christian Ponder was booed by the hometown fans before he even received his jersey number with the Minnesota Vikings.

Such is life at the most high-profile position in professional sports, and Ponder is confident he can turn those jeers into cheers before too long.

The Vikings surprised some draft experts by using the No. 12 pick in the first round on the Florida State quarterback, and the selection was booed lustily by hundreds of fans attending a draft party at team headquarters.

Coming from the tradition-rich Seminoles program, Ponder is used to the scrutiny.

"I have to earn my respect, from the fans and from my teammates," Ponder said Friday at his introductory news conference. "There is a lot of uncertainty with any pick in the draft.

"I know that on my personal level, I'm going to put in my time to earn that respect and do what I have to do. I know what comes with this role. And I'm going to prepare myself for it, and I'll be fine."

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier gave Ponder quite the introduction, saying the 23-year-old "is going to be with us for a long time and really set a legacy as a quarterback that all of us remember for years and years to come."

Ponder was a three-year starter at Florida State and was slowed somewhat by arm injuries last season. But he proved to the Vikings that he was healthy during pre-draft workouts, and Frazier jumped at the chance to draft a quarterback that he expects to develop into a franchise cornerstone.

With Brett Favre retired, at least for now, the Vikings had only Joe Webb and Rhett Bomar on the roster before adding Ponder. Frazier made it a priority to address the position in the draft.

"Last night, when we made that selection, it was something for me like just a relief that we got a guy who will solidify that position for years to come," Frazier said, "and I won't have to come back each year at the draft and wonder about our quarterback situation for the future."

The Vikings selected Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph with their second-round pick Friday night. Rudolph played in only six games last season for the Fighting Irish because of a torn hamstring, but vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman said the team's doctors pronounced him in good health.

"That's a player that, normally, if he hadn't had that hamstring injury, we wouldn't have even had a shot to get," Spielman said.

The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Rudolph left school after his junior season. He caught 28 passes for 328 yards and three touchdowns last season. Rudolph joins veterans Visanthe Shiancoe, Jim Kleinsasser and Jeff Dugan as tight ends on the Minnesota roster.

At first blush, the Vikings have greater needs at offensive line, defensive line and in the secondary. But Shiancoe, the team's top receiving tight end, is entering the final year of his contract.

"I know we have three tight ends on our roster right now, but when you have a player like that, it's just too good to pass up," Spielman said. "I know we'll sort it all out as we get there."

Rudolph said he was disappointed he didn't get drafted in the first round.

"It was definitely tough because my hamstring is not an issue anymore," Rudolph said. "It's something that is part of the past and it was a freak injury."

The Vikings raved about Ponder's intelligence. He earned his degree in 2½ years and finished his MBA in finance by the time he left school. The Vikings hope that will help him pick up the nuances of the position in the NFL more quickly, and he may have to if the lockout stretches into the summer.

Lockout or no lockout, Ponder said he was aiming to be in the huddle in Week 1.

"My goal is to start right away," he said. "I think that's anyone's goal. I'm going to prepare myself that way. It's really what I do leading up to that point that is going to determine my success rate. I'm going to do everything possible under the circumstances to get to that point."

Even after his glowing introduction, Frazier said he wasn't going to put too much pressure on Ponder to turn around a 6-10 team by himself. The coach said the fans will come around when the victories do.

"Christian will have great support from our defense, from our special teams, the other players on our offense," Frazier said. "If we do what we have to do as a team, those people that are concerned will love what we have accomplished. They will cheer, and that's our goal, to make sure they are cheering."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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