NOT PICTURED: Christian Ponder's shoes, because apparently he already has some big ones to fill.
Every Vikings fan has good reason to believe that Christian Ponder will improve in his upcoming sophomore season. He should have a better offensive line in front of him. He has a couple new young targets to throw to. Most importantly, he has a full year of NFL experience under his belt.
OK, maybe not. But he did compare Ponder's rookie season to the early careers of Brees and the younger Manning.
To live up to any of those lofty comparisons, Spielman realizes that Ponder needs to have an excellent 2012 season as the full-time starter. Here's an excerpt of what he had to say to the Pioneer Press' Charley Walters:
"I looked at the statistical analysis, and they were all very similar their rookie years," Spielman said. "And you look at where they developed and where their numbers came in their second years."
Brees only played in one game his rookie year, but he threw for 17 touchdowns and over 3,000 yards while starting all 16 games in year two. Manning had a very similar rookie year to Ponder and then proceeded to improve his QB rating by 20 points and lead his team to an 11-5 record in his sophomore campaign. Spielman's main point seems to be that there's a precedent for quarterbacks making a leap in their second seasons.
But there's also a strong precedent for quarterbacks completely falling off after showing promise in their early years. For every Brees and Manning, there seem to be two Chad Henne's, Trent Edwards', or Kevin Kolb's.
You know the old saying "there are lies, damned lies, and statistics?" After Spielman's comments, we might have to amend it: "there are lies, damned lies, statistics, and projecting statistics off of an incredibly small sample size." It's certainly fine to hope that Ponder's career path follows the league's best, but it's quite another thing to anticipate it.
And to clarify, I don't believe that Spielman expects Ponder to instantly transform into the next elite quarterback this year. But it sure sounds like he expects Ponder to make marked improvement in 2012:
Spielman said the Vikings expect Ponder "to grow and develop from where he was last year. It was a great experience for him, but you have to be patient with these young quarterbacks as you look through the history of some of these young guys."
This might not be a complete make-or-break season for Ponder, but it could be pretty darn close. Since we're still in the offseason, we might as well hope that Ponder makes The Leap in 2012 while we still can.