EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- At this time last year, Christian Ponder's preseason was over. He was firmly entrenched as the Vikings' starting quarterback headed into the beginning of the regular season, and as such, he was preparing to sit out the team's final exhibition game against the Tennessee Titans.
Of course, it's all turned around this year. Ponder is the third-string quarterback, behind the veteran the Vikings initially signed to back him up and the player they drafted in the first round as their new QB of the future. He hasn't played in the Vikings' last two preseason games, and though coach Mike Zimmer has hinted the Vikings will keep three quarterbacks, Ponder would be on the roster as an afterthought, not a centerpiece.
This Thursday, as the Vikings wrap up their preseason schedule against Tennessee, the stage figures to be Ponder's. He'll likely see a healthy share of the playing time against the Titans, and if he does so, he'd effectively get his first significant chunk of work since last Dec. 1, when a concussion knocked him out of a game against the Chicago Bears and Matt Cassel claimed a starting job he still hasn't given back.
Thursday could be the last significant playing time Ponder sees in a Vikings uniform, though he says he's not asking for a trade to speed up his exit from Minnesota.
"That's up to our GM," he said. "I'm not going in and saying anything to him right now in terms of that. Whatever happens is going to happen. If I go to the GM and ask for a trade, that doesn't mean the other team wants me. It's really up to everyone else."
Even if he's in Minnesota all season, Ponder will be a free agent at the end of the year, and will in all likelihood be looking for work elsewhere. He said he's not treating Thursday as an audition for other teams, even though it could be his final chance to put something on video before he hits free agency.
The Vikings have said they've seen improvement in Ponder's play, though it remains to be seen whether any of that will come to light in a game after Thursday night. If the Titans game is indeed Ponder's only concentrated chunk of playing time this season, it'll serve as a bizarre footnote to a dizzying turn of events for the quarterback in Minnesota.
"It's definitely a little different," he said. "This week, the first-team offense will be running scout team and everything, and taking it easy. It's completely different. Honestly, I'm excited to just get out there and play. Getting more reps in practice makes this week fun, and I'm looking forward to getting some action in the game. I'm learning so much from watching Matt and Teddy [Bridgewater], and listening to [quarterbacks coach] Scott [Turner] and [offensive coordinator] Norv [Turner]. I really feel like I have a great understanding of what we're doing, and my confidence is high right now."