Does Rick Spielman Really Want To Risk Turning Christian Ponder Into Joey Harrington?
By Jon Merckle
We’ve written about the NFL Combine extensively at TVA over the past week. Part of this weekend’s event requires general managers and coaches to give interviews to the media where, as expected, the big wigs keep their cards close to their vest. Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has talked in circles this weekend speaking kindly of stud USC left tackle Matt Kalil, the possibility of trading down and ultimately if it’s more important to have a solid left tackle to protect young Christian Ponder or other young playmakers on offense. The most quoted line of Spielman’s this weekend has been that of, “There’s the adage that you go back and forth on. Is the left tackle that important or is it more important to have playmakers on offense? Because as your quarterback evolves, he learns the system, he gets the ball quicker out of his hand and all of a sudden that left tackle doesn’t need to be a Pro Bowl left tackle. He can be a functional left tackle because the quarterback evolves and he’s got playmakers.” Spielman later goes on to reference how Aaron Rodgers struggled with protection earlier in his career, how eventually learned to get rid of the ball quicker and that the line eventually improved. Beyond the fact that Rodgers didn’t struggle with injuries early in his career and Ponder has, it’d be best to reference another quarterback the Vikings have competed against in the past – Jonathan Joseph Harrington.
The Detroit Lions drafted Joey Harrington in 2002 as the 3rd overall pick. He had an illustrious college career at Oregon as a 3-year starter leading the team to a record of 25-3. He looked like a franchise quarterback while being a Duck standing 6’4”, having a solid arm and was believed to have smart brain inside his cranium. But what happened in the drafts thereafter was an experience that the Vikings had best remember. Lions general manager Matt Millen took on the belief that it was best to surround his then 24-year-old quarterback with offensive playmakers by drafting three wide receivers in the 1st round in as many years and zero offensive lineman. In 2003 it was Charles Rogers, 2004 it was Roy Williams and in 2005 Mike Williams. Harrington went onto struggle grasping an NFL offense, which to some extent is on the quarterback, however general manager Matt Millen did next to nothing of sort to build the Lions offensive line. What’s else is notable is when looking back on the 2003, 2004 and 2005 drafts the offensive lineman taken after each former Lions wide receiver went onto play in multiple Pro Bowls — Jordan Gross (2), Shawn Andrews (3) and Jammal Brown (2). Yes, Roy Williams did go onto play in a Pro Bowl in 2006, but you get the point. Plus all of the offensive linemen drafted are still in the league, whereas Harrington isn’t and the same could be said for Rogers.
Getting back to the Vikings, it’s obvious that the offensive line in not a strength and Charlie Johnson is best suited at guard where he doesn’t have to line up across the likes of Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews. For purple sake, we had best be hoping that Spielman is just talking for the sake of compliance and the plan is to rush to the podium if Kalil slips to #3. After Kalil’s impressive performance yesterday, it’s far from a certainty the draft’s best left tackle will even be available at 3. But if Spielman passes on Kalil or trades the pick away to take a wide receiver early he’d best find a new job and it not be in the booth. Only Matt Millen can open his broadcasting career to say, “I stunk as a GM.”
Jon Merckle may be followed on Twitter @thevikingpig