Entering his third NFL season, Christian Ponder is entrenched as the Vikings' starting quarterback.
Ponder has started 26 consecutive games and been granted the privileges of an established NFL quarterback, from playing limited snaps in the preseason to the unmitigated endorsement of his coach.
Questions, however, remain.
Has Ponder earned his place? And, more important, can he keep it?
His passer rating of 81.2 was 21st in the NFL last season, and his 6.08-yard average gain was 31st.
This preseason, familiar names Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Michael Vick were among those with passer ratings exceeding 100. Ponder was 72nd at 70.1.
With the 2013 season ready to kick off this week, former NFL general managers Jerry Angelo and Mike Tannenbaum agreed to give the Pioneer Press their assessments of Ponder and his NFC Central peers. They disagree when it comes to Ponder.
Tannenbaum has seen positive signs. Angelo, not so much.
Angelo, the longtime general manager of the Chicago Bears, evaluated Ponder coming out of Florida State. He liked his "makeup," work ethic and skills.
"But it doesn't transfer over on game day," Angelo said. "It didn't in college, and he didn't take the big step from year one (in the NFL) to year two."
Especially because he was handing the ball off to Adrian Peterson, whom Angelo called a hall of fame running back.
Ponder is only 25, but Angelo isn't sure how much better the quarterback will get, citing Ponder's instincts and accuracy in the pocket.
"He's not a natural," Angelo said, "and the more you ask him to do, the more he'll look like a robot.
"There are too many times when he has to make a play and nothing happens."
Tannenbaum, a former New York Jets GM, said he liked Ponder's "trajectory," pointing to the team's playoff run last season.
"You want to continue to see improvement, but it's a really hard thing in the NFL to develop quarterbacks," said Tannenbaum. "They're winning, and he's developing."
Tannenbaum said the Vikings were wise to concentrate on building the quality of the offensive line and adding receiving threats. But Angelo said the Vikings need to do more to cater to Ponder's strengths.
"You have to play 'small ball' with him," Angelo said. "You do this by featuring Peterson, as well as Ponder's athleticism."
Angelo suggested moving Ponder outside of the pocket, which could pose more of a threat to an opposing defense.
"It's not the ideal way you want to run an offense, but the scheme is meaningless if the quarterback can't function well within it," Angelo said. "Peterson can't carry the ball and Ponder, too."
Angelo classifies quarterbacks in five ways: franchise quarterback, potential franchise quarterback, game manager, potential game manager and, finally, Band-Aid quarterback.
Angelo pooled Ponder among the "potential game managers."
Angelo said Ponder and Vikings are fortunate to have offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.
"He's got a coordinator in Bill Musgrave who knows how to manage and develop quarterbacks," Angelo said.