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2012 PRESEASON COMMENCES

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Let’s face it, Christian Ponder ‘s first NFL start marks the beginning of the Vikings 2012 preseason. At 1-5, with two-going-on-three division losses, it’s next to impossible that the Vikings will do anything this season.

(When Christian Ponder closes out the season with an unbeaten streak, I will steadfastly deny I ever said this. When you print out this post and hand it to me, I will claim I was misquoted. When you point out that I wrote it, I will say it was taken out of context.)

So enjoy the wins, shrug off the losses, and watch for improvement with the team overall and with individual players.

We’re all curious and excited to see what we’ve got in Christian Ponder.

The Green Bay Packers are 31st in the league against the pass but they’re undefeated. Who’s last? The Patriots, at 5-1. So all that means is they’ve run up the score on their opponents, who’ve had to resort to the pass to try and catch up.

Given the way the Packers are playing, then, and given the way our defense was handled by the Bears, there’s little reason not to expect the Vikings to fall behind early. If Antoine Winfield does not play, the Vikings will be stretched thin (exposed) as the Packers employ multiple receivers to take advantage of mismatches.

The Vikings would no doubt prefer to run Adrian Peterson early and effectively to control the clock, keep Aaron Rogers and company off the field, and make it easier on their rookie quarterback.

But that’s the ideal. The Vikings defense is fifth in the NFL against the run. You wanna know who’s number four? Yep, the Packers. So running Peterson all day is nice concept in theory but may be hard to actually put into practice.

The Bears refused to let Peterson beat them and dared Donovan McNabb to do so by stacking eight or nine guys in the box.

So that’s one approach and why not take it until the rookie can prove he’s got an answer?

The good news from all of that is if the Vikings are playing from behind early and if the Packers score quickly, it should provide plenty of opportunities for us to see Ponder in action as a passer.

With Joe Berger likely starting at center in place of the injured John Sullivan, with Phil Loadholt hobbled with a sore knee and with Steve Hutcinson and Charlie Johnson banged up, we should also get a good look at how Ponder handles a collapsing or claustrophobic pocket.

Will we see, then, plenty of max protect schemes with three tight ends? Given Visanthe Shiancoe and Kyle Rudolph‘s blocking skills, I’m a bit skeptical that might be all that effective.

Speaking of Rudolph, Sunday could prove to finally be his coming out party. Ponder and Rudloph, remember, were fast friends, practicing together during the lockout. I would love to see it cause I want to see more of him. Every time the kid touches the ball, he makes something happen. He’s such a fluid and natural athlete with insanely soft hands, I’d just love to see him get more touches.

And what, now, is preventing us from featuring Joe Webb more prominently and in more than the underwhelming “Blazer” package? Shit, man, give him Bernard Berrian‘s snaps. He’s bound to do more with them than @B_Twice has and he’s got much better speed than our “always open” wideout.

On defense, look for Jared Allen to be double- and triple-teamed or have a huge game or both. He’s going up against second-year tackle Marshall Newhouse, who’s starting in place of the injured Chad Clifton.

But even if Allen does pressure Rogers, he’s so good at finding the mismatches and he’s got so many weapons in the receiving game, it’s not likely to make a difference when he’s got Tyrell Johnson, a gimpy Cedric Griffen, and Asher Allen and Marcus Sherels to exploit. Throw in Jermichael Finley matched up against E.J. Henderson down the seam and, well, it ain’t gonna be pretty.

I will be curious to see whether rookie safety Mistral Raymond will get playing time. It’s possible but we’ll likely have to wait for Johnson to give up a couple of touchdowns by blowing coverage or taking a bad angle before the rookie gets his chance.

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THE DEETS

The Vikings host the the Green Bay Packers at Mall of America Field at the Metrodome on Sunday. Kickoff is at 3:15 PM CST and the game will be broadcast on Fox.

Your play-by-play guy will be Thom Brennamen and Troy Aikman will be your analyst with Pam Oliver serving as the sideline “reporter.”

The radio broadcast is on KFAN-AM 1130/KTLK 100.3-FM locally with your usual crew of play-by-play guy Paul Allen, analyst Pete Bercich and sideline reporter Greg Coleman. Pre-game show starts at 1 PM CST.

WALKING WOUNDED

Vikings: Wide receiver Percy Harvin (ribs) returned to practice Thursday, as did right tackle Phil Loadholt (knee) and both expect to play. Center John Sullivan and safety Jamarca Sanford, both of whom suffered concussions last week, were held out of practice again and will need to pass a tests administered by a third-party doctor before being cleared to play Sunday. Cornerback Antoine Winfield (neck) was limited for a second consecutive day. Also limited were linebackers E.J. Henderson and Kenny Onatolu.

Opponent: Cornerback Sam Shields (concussion) was held out yesterday, as was linebacker Jamari Lattimore (shoulder); linebacker Clay Matthews (quadricep), cornerback Charles Woodson (foot/knee), safety Morgan Burnett (hand) and guard Josh Sitton (knee) were all limited.

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