ALAMEDA (AP) — After spending last season mired on the bench in Minnesota, Christian Ponder is happy for any chance he gets to work with the first-team offense.
Even if that chance only comes in offseason workouts.
Ponder has spent the past two weeks during the offseason program for the Oakland Raiders working with the top offense while starter Derek Carr nurses a finger injury on his throwing hand.
It’s a far cry from last season when the former first-round pick and quarterback who led Minnesota to the playoffs in his second season was relegated to third string behind rookie Teddy Bridgewater and Matt Cassel.
“It’s nice to be out there getting reps,” Ponder said Tuesday. “Last year, I didn’t get too many reps with Matt Cassel and Teddy ahead of me. So, it’s good to be out there and get more reps and get my feet wet.”
Carr got hurt earlier in the offseason program and missed all of the OTAs last week and the first day this week. He was able to take snaps and hand the ball off during practice Tuesday but is not quite ready to throw the ball.
Coach Jack Del Rio said Carr is making progress but gave no timetable on when Carr would be able to practice fully again. So for now, Ponder is running the offense.
“He’s a guy that was quarterback of a team that won 10 games,” Del Rio said. “That’s not easy to do in this league. He’s got some experience. He’s seen big moments before. He’s quarterbacked his team to a winning record. That experience is beneficial, beneficial for him.”
Ponder’s star fell quickly in Minnesota. He was the 12th overall pick in 2011 out of Florida State and started 10 games as a rookie. He played all 16 games the following season, leading the Vikings to 10 wins and a playoff berth.
But Ponder struggled in 2013, throwing nine interceptions and only seven touchdown passes in nine starts before dropping to third-string last season.
“I think it’s definitely made me better,” Ponder said. “Going through those experiences definitely toughened you mentally and you learn from a lot of those things. Being able to experience a different offense in what Norv Turner was running when he came in last year helped, being able to look at things differently and having different perspectives on certain plays, routes and defenses and stuff. It helped my football IQ, but it stinks having to go through stuff like that.”
Ponder left Minnesota after the season when his contract expired.
He made only one offseason visit in free agency before signing with the Raiders, attracted to Oakland in part because of his relationship with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, who held the same role in Minnesota for Ponder’s first three NFL seasons.
“I was fortunate that it worked out this way and I’m glad I’m here,” he said.
NOTES: DT Dan Williams, LB Curtis Lofton, LB Sio Moore and RB Taiwan Jones are among the other players being held out of team drills while rehabbing injuries. Del Rio did not elaborate on their injuries but said he is not concerned by their absences. ... The Raiders also signed seventh-round pick CB Dexter McDonald to a rookie contract.