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Christian Ponder accepts backup role with Raiders, making most of his reps

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The unquestioned starter at quarterback for the Raiders this offseason is second year man, Derek Carr. But unfortunately, Carr has a finger injury that is keeping him from throwing passes. In his absence, Christian Ponder and Matt McGloin have shared the first team reps.

What's interesting is despite McGloin entering his third season, it's Ponder who is ahead of the learning curve. That's because, though Ponder is new to the Raiders, he and Raiders new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave worked together for three years in Minnesota.

Ponder said Tuesday following OTA practice that Musgrave's presence on the team was a big reason for his choosing to come to Oakland.

"This offense is a little different than what I ran in Minnesota," said Ponder. "He [Musgrave] is bringing some of the stuff from Philly over, but a lot of the vocabulary and verbiage is the same."

It was for these reasons as well that the move to sign Ponder this offseason made so much sense. Head coach Jack Del Rio has seen that familiarity between Ponder and his old OC.

"I think there are definitely things -- the terminology, reads within the system -- that he's been through before with Bill," said Del Rio. "It's not all the same, but there is enough carry-over where he's going to feel a little more comfortable than the other guys in terms of terminology and what it means right way, learning the system."

Aside from familiarity, Ponder has experience. He is a former first round pick, a starter, and four-year NFL veteran.

"He's a guy that was quarterback of a team that won 10 games," Del Rio continued. "That's not easy to do in this league. He's got some experience. He's been big moments before. He's quarterbacked his team to a winning record. That experience is beneficial, beneficial for him. If anything were to happen, having he and Matt [McGloin] both as guys that have taken snaps in the games, it's a good thing for us."

Finding that level of experience in free agency is not always easy. And convincing a quarterback with that experience to come to a team which has an already entrenched starter in place is even harder.

That's the situation Ponder is in. And he accepts it.

"My job, I understand, is the backup and I'm here to help Derek and help this team out," said Ponder. "It is exciting for me to be out there right now taking first-team reps, but I know that this is Derek's team right now."

"But it's nice to be out there getting reps. Last year, I didn't get too many reps with Matt Cassel and Teddy [Bridgewater] ahead of me. So, it's good to be out there and get more reps and get my feet wet."

Even though Ponder is unlikely to be given an opportunity to compete for the starting job, he will very much be embroiled in a competition with McGloin to be the team's primary backup. Obviously, he is currently ahead in that competition, but as has been the case with the Raiders the past couple seasons, the depth chart can easily change before the season rolls around.

It's a situation and a competition Ponder says he is that much more prepared for due to his fall from starter on a winning team to falling down the depth chart the past couple seasons.

"I think it's definitely made me better. 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 [Vikings offensive coordinator] 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 - losing your job and having to find a new organization. But I think it's worked out for me so far."

While Ponder's experience better prepare him in his efforts to secure the primary backup position behind Carr, he also offers a perspective of the NFL which can be valuable to Carr as a young, highly regarded quarterback.

He is a reminder of just how fleeting it can be. How you can be at the top of the mountain one day, and then fall off a cliff the next.

Fortunately for Carr, his finger injury appears to be minor which should have him back throwing soon, perhaps even by minicamp. Until then, the Raiders offense appears to be in pretty good hands.