Ponder not practicing, Cassel could start

WATFORD, England -- It appears Christian Ponder won’t start at quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

Ponder was not throwing or wearing a helmet in the portion of practice open to reporters on Friday morning in England, indicating he will likely miss Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers with the rib injury that has limited him in practice all week. Instead, it appears backup quarterback Matt Cassel will start for the Vikings at Wembley Stadium.

Ponder’s status has been uncertain all week; the quarterback had indicated he would be able to play with the injury, pointing out he finished the game after getting hit early last Sunday against the Cleveland Browns and saying on Thursday he felt fine throwing with extra padding on his ribs. The one unknown, Ponder said, was how he would handle contact, but without an opportunity to simulate that in practice, the quarterback’s status would be left up to the Vikings’ training staff and coach Leslie Frazier.

Even if Ponder was completely healthy, one could argue the Vikings were nearing a change at quarterback. The former first-round pick has thrown five interceptions against just two touchdown passes in three games, having an interception returned for a touchdown in a 31-30 loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 2. He could regain his starting status after the Vikings’ bye week, depending on what happens with Cassel on Sunday, but it’s also possible the Vikings would use the opportunity to move in a different direction.

The Vikings signed Cassel to a two-year, $7.4 million contract in March after he was released by the Kansas City Chiefs. Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman said at the time that Ponder was the starting quarterback and Cassel was coming in to give the Vikings a veteran option in case something happened to Ponder. They were forced to start Joe Webb after an elbow injury kept Ponder out of a wild-card playoff game in Green Bay last January, and Webb completed just 11 of 30 passes for 180 yards in the loss.

Cassel, 31, emerged in the NFL after Tom Brady tore his ACL during the first week of the 2008 season, and he led the New England Patriots to a 10-6 record that season. He reached the Pro Bowl and led the Chiefs to the playoffs in 2010, but injuries and ineffectiveness made him expendable after the Chiefs traded for Alex Smith last winter.

“We signed Matt Cassel for occasions like this, if something were to happen to Christian,” Frazier said on Thursday.

Now, it seems the coach will get his chance to see where Cassel can take the Vikings.