After talking with former NFL quarterback and current IMG Academy football program Director Chris Weinke about his work with Cam Newton(notes) (here and here), we also discussed the finishing work Weinke did with ex-Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder(notes), who impressed in his first NFL start against the Green Bay Packers last Sunday. With Newton's Panthers and Ponder's Vikings facing off this Sunday, it was a great opportunity to get the inside take on what the future of the quarterback position looks like for both teams.
I was a big fan of Ponder's from the Senior Bowl through the combine, and it's there where we pick things up with Weinke about Ponder's prospects.
Shutdown Corner: Moving to Christian Ponder — and I didn't really start studying his tape until the impressed me so much at the Senior Bowl … what really got me going about him was his command of the little things. Pocket presence, the ability to read through progressions, making the head fake and getting out of pressure in what you called "the phone booth" — he just seems to have a great command of the intricacies of the position in a way that shows up when you're watching him.
Chris Weinke: Christian's a smart guy — he's probably one of the smartest guys in the draft this year. He understands the position, and he's smart enough to understand and make little subtle changes that will gain an edge for him. But I've said all along, and had been quoted early on even before the draft, that he was one of the most prepared quarterbacks to make that jump from college to the NFL because of his mental makeup and his mental capacity.
The one thing about Christian was that he battled through some injuries at Florida State, and just found a way to fight through it. But in the end, he was as prepared as anyone in that draft to understand the intricacies of an NFL offense and to be able to process the information. So, now we see him healthy, and we see what he's doing now, and hopefully he continues to get better and have success.
SC: When did you work with him?
CW: Christian came down to me right after the draft and spent about five to six weeks down here. And that time was spent installing his offense and working in his mechanics and concepts in that particular offense.
SC: The two things I noticed about him in Mobile -- first, the arm was better than people were saying, and second, it seems that his mobility is a real asset to him as a pure passer. He's not reading to run so much as he is looking to get out of pressure, re-establish his base out of the pocket, and make the form throw even on the run. What did you see from him with those things, and what did you work with him on specifically?
CW: Well, I think the knock in terms of arm strength with Christian was that people tended to forget that he was battling some arm injuries while he was in college. Maybe that was a fair assessment, that he didn't have that "cannon" of an arm, but I know now after having a chance to work with him, that he's very physically strong. He's put together very well. His ability to escape and make plays with his feet is very evident now. He's healthy, and he made some big-time plays against Green Bay. And on the move, whether it was scrambling for a first down or moving out of the pocket and making an accurate throw.
I know this — when Christian Ponder's healthy, he's got more than enough arm strength. But I think he created a little hitch in his delivery, because he was overcompensating for some of the injuries he had. So, we worked on that extensively, in terms of trying to get that hitch out of his throw, so that he could get rid of the ball more quickly. Then, we worked with him just teaching him to generate power with his legs when he's throwing the football. I tell people all the time that quarterbacks throw the ball with their legs, and people don't understand that. You have to be in a good position with your upper body, and get your arm in the right slot, but you deliver the football and generate power with your legs.
I use the analogy all the time of a heavyweight boxer — you'll never see a guy deliver a knockout blow standing straight up with his knees locked out. I teach a lot about building the quarterback from the ground up. Once Christian was comfortable and really able to be in rhythm from head to toe, he could get back to generating some velocity on the ball. That was obviously evident in his first start.
SC: And he really is kind of a rhythm passer, isn't he?
CW: With any successful quarterback, throwing the football is all about rhythm and timing. If your lower body isn't timed up with your upper body, you're going to create hitches and you're not going to be able to generate power. He's a guy who, as he continues to gain more experience and get more comfortable, that's where he's going to have success, because he really is a rhythm passer.