MOBILE, Ala. — The North's quarterbacks have garnered the lion's share of the attention this week at the Senior Bowl. Washington's Jake Locker could be a first-round pick. Nevada's Colin Kaepernick has a bushel of natural ability; his potential is his draw. Iowa's Ricky Stanzi has five seasons in a pro-style offense, a feather in his cap among evaluators.
The South's quarterbacks aren't quite as highly regarded, though all figure to be drafted. Alabama's Greg McElroy has had a good week here but may not hear his name called until the final two rounds. TCU's Andy Dalton has good mobility and could fit into the fourth or fifth round.
Then there's Florida State's Christian Ponder, who suffered a nagging right forearm injury in a win at Miami (Fla.) on Oct. 9 that bothered him the rest of the season and eventually required surgery. He missed a pair of games with the injury, including the ACC title game loss vs. Virginia Tech, and he played sparingly in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year's Eve. He had surgery to remove scar tissue from his arm in December.
Time and again, Ponder has explained the injury was to his forearm, not to his elbow — and that it was not serious.
"The doctors described it as a really bad 'Indian burn,' where I got hit and slid across the ground and the connecting tissue called fascia, (which) connects your skin to your muscle, (that) separated from the muscle, and this little pocket formed," Ponder said. "Every time I'd land on it, fluid would rush into the area. I'd get it drained, and the very next game, I'd fall on it again, and more fluid would rush in the area.
"So it wasn't a major injury — it was more of a nuisance. It didn't really get cleared up until after the season. I had surgery just to clear it up, and now it's all fine."
Injuries marked Ponder's final two seasons in Tallahassee. In November 2009, Ponder had right shoulder surgery after suffering a grade-3 separation. At the beginning of his senior season, he suffered a triceps bruise.
Then came the most recent injury, which he's determined to prove he has overcome. Ponder has declared himself "100 percent" health-wise. Bills QB coach George Cortez, his position coach on the South team, said he doesn't look like a player who had arm surgery in December. "I would say I didn't see any remnants of that," he said. Another potential good sign: South head coach Chan Gailey said Ponder threw the deep ball the best of the team's three quarterbacks.
The 6-2, 222-pound Ponder isn't known for having exceptional arm strength, but he's an accurate passer with good mobility. As a junior, he completed 68.8 percent of his throws. His completion percentage fell to 61.5 percent as a senior, but he nonetheless threw a career-best 20 TDs as he toughed it out with the injury.
One of the questions about Ponder concerns his decision making in the pocket. He's done some self-scouting. "Going back on the film, a lot of times I wasn't as patient in the pocket as I should have been," he said.
In one play during Thursday's practice, Ponder looked one way, then found a secondary target toward the right middle of the endzone. While he badly underthrew his target and was almost intercepted, he showed good patience. He'll have to be consistently cool and calm making multiple reads and deliver the ball with accuracy to make it in the NFL, but the first step is committing to standing in the pocket and waiting for a receiver to come open.
"The good thing is, I've noticed it, and I think it's the first step," Ponder said.
Ponder has said he will not throw at the NFL Scouting Combine, but he will participate in other drills. Most importantly, he'll go through the league's battery of medical tests. He'll also have a chance to again meet personally with numerous NFL teams. These face-to-face meetings are an important part of the evaluation process. Considering his recent injury history, the more teams get to meet and talk to Ponder, the better.
Before his senior season, Ponder was considered a potential second- or third-round pick; now, the feeling is Round Three or Four is when his name is most likely to be called.
One thing is certain: Someone coming off a unique, challenging season like Ponder could learn something from his approach this week. He's stood in and answered question after question about the forearm injury. Also, the practice reps he's taken this week are valuable additions to his lengthy résumé tape.
Ponder couldn't control getting hurt this season, but he can control the message he sends to teams about his health. And by being here this week, he's sending a clear signal about how he feels.