John of Belleville, Ill., asks a fair question that allows for two important points.
Wrote John: "Why do rebuilding teams (like the Minnesota Vikings) want to hold out their starters for the final preseason game? In my opinion, with the new CBA limiting the number of padded practices, I would take advantage of the last pre-season game and treat it like a 'padded-practice.' Yes it is a game, but it is a practice game as the results don't count. Based on the Vikings' game vs. San Diego, I would expect that, at minimum, the offensive line should play along with other starter hopefuls."
As John noted, the Vikings plan to hold out as many starters as they can from Thursday's preseason finale at the Houston Texans. That list includes quarterback Christian Ponder and most of the team's young and rebuilt offensive line.
Protecting established starters in the fourth preseason game is nearly standard practice in the NFL. The risk of even minor injuries so close to the start of the regular season, the thought goes, outweighs any benefit of a final tune-up for key players. The gray area comes in situations like the Vikings', who have turned over 12 positions from their 2011 Week 1 lineup.
You could make a reasonable argument that the offensive line, which has three starters at new positions, would benefit from more work together. The same could go for the entire defense, which has new starters at nose tackle, middle linebacker and free safety.
In essence the Vikings have reinforced what we discussed in last week's Inside Slant podcast: More than ever, teams are minimizing risk in preseason games. They have further downplayed the value of fine-tuning in preseason games, and instead view them as a chance to evaluate unestablished players and provide a measured dose of development time for young starters.
A second point remains valid, however. Should the Vikings consider Ponder an established player? Or should he have received more preseason work?
Ponder unofficially took 52 snaps over the first three preseason games, more than any starter in the NFC North and among the top eight of all NFL starters, based on an examination of preseason attempts, sacks and scrambles. So you could fairly argue that he got more work than a majority of NFL starters this summer.
Was it enough? Consider that Green Bay Packers have given their reigning MVP, Aaron Rodgers, just one less snap than Ponder by my count. And the list of starters who have played more than Ponder this preseason include some prominent names: the Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan, the Baltimore Ravens' Joe Flacco, the Kansas City Chiefs' Matt Cassel and Carson Palmer of the Oakland Raiders.
Of course, Ryan led that group with 64 snaps. Would 12 extra plays -- putting Ponder at the top of the NFL's current thought process for quarterback playing time -- have made a substantive difference? That's debatable. The biggest argument for playing him Thursday is to address some of the technique mistakes he made in last Friday's sluggish performance against the San Diego Chargers. To the Vikings, however, it's not worth the risk.
If Ponder was at the bottom of the NFL's playing-time list for quarterbacks this summer, I would be more alarmed. In the end, on the NFL's relative scale, Ponder had a pretty heavy workload this summer.