Oct 25, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman (5) passes against the Minnesota Vikings in the fourth quarter at the Metrodome. The Buccaneers win 36-17. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Is Josh Freeman Really An Upgrade Over Christian Ponder?

Everyone has an opinion on the Josh Freeman signing and whether it was a good move for the Vikings. Those fans who’ve grown weary of Christian “One Step Up and Two Steps Back” Ponder are naturally elated that a new QB has been added to the mix, one who can potentially win some games right away yet is young enough to possibly represent a long-term solution at the position.

But amid all the celebration, let’s not lose sight of this reality: Ponder may have lots of question marks, but Freeman has plenty of his own as well. Yes he has more of a track record than Christian Ponder, and at least in terms of physical tools he would seem to surpass Ponder by a wide margin, but talk to scouts and you discover that Freeman may have more in common with Ponder than you realized.

Tom Pelissero of USA Today did just that…talked to some scouts about Josh Freeman to get the skinny on why the quarterback seems to have regressed since his breakout season of 2010. And Tom got some pretty interesting answers. Read some of these snippets and you almost feel like they’re talking about Ponder instead of Freeman:

He’s got [talent] just oozing out of him, but trying to harness him and corral it and get him where he needs to be consistently – that’s the big thing.

Okay so maybe Ponder doesn’t “ooze” talent, but the consistency question…that’s always been a big one with Ponder. Getting him to play within himself and not make the big mistake. Another quote on Freeman:

You see the physical tools, but you see regressive qualities in his footwork, mechanics, location – the technical precision of the game that is required to play that position beyond the physical dimensions that you can evaluate.

Footwork? Mechanics? Location? All things Ponder struggles with, sometimes mightily.

Another Freeman snippet:

The up-and-down play, the inconsistent performance, selective decision-making under pressure. Some of those things you wouldn’t expect for a guy who was a developing player in Year 3 or Year 4 of the maturation process.

Again, that could be a quote about Ponder.  And so could this:

Physically, he has the capability to do it. But the mental part of playing that position – the timing, the anticipation, the accuracy, the location, the recognition skills – those things are equally critical.

I think the point is getting across. Josh Freeman has many of the same question marks looming over his head that Ponder has. But there are key differences that we must also keep in mind.

First, Freeman has a track record of success behind him, and that gives you hope that the mechanical issues and mental lapses can be corrected relatively easily. Ponder does not have that track record so it’s harder to give him the benefit of the doubt. Also, Freeman was in a fairly unstable situation in Tampa Bay, with lots of coach turnover and finally the hiring of apparent nutball Greg Schiano, and that may have affected him mentally.

Another key difference is simple physical ability. Freeman has a bigger arm and can more successfully push the ball downfield. And he’s larger and stronger and can take more of a pounding than the obviously fragile Ponder.

Another issue that’s dogged Ponder is his lack of leadership and presence in the huddle. It’s too early to say what kind of leader Freeman will be, stepping into a new locker room with a new set of teammates, but he has gotten good reviews on leadership from some former teammates so there’s every reason to believe he will quickly win over the new gang. Ponder never seemed to earn the confidence of his teammates – in the case of Percy Harvin, there seemed to be out-right animosity – and in the end that might have been the thing that did him in more than any other single factor.

The bottom line is this: Freeman definitely has things he needs to work on and get corrected. And after the way Ponder’s development went, it’s fair to question whether the Vikings’ coaching staff is up to the challenge of getting those things corrected. Josh Freeman is saying all the right things about Minnesota, saying he likes the situation he’s walking into, but every guy says that at first. If Freeman continues to struggle with mechanics and decision-making, and can’t get back to the form he showed earlier in his career? Then we’re right back on the same merry-go-round we’ve been riding with Ponder for three years. Is it the player or the coaches or the system or the stars or the moon or what?

Let’s hope Freeman plays well and wins some games, cause I’m not interested in riding that merry-go-round again. Not for another ten years at least.

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