After Jed York’s press conference, the San Francisco 49er locker was open while players gathered their things and packed up for the offseason. One of the players who spoke very candidly about his experience with the franchise was Christian Ponder. The back-up quarterback signed with the team during the preseason after Thad Lewis suffered a season ending injury.
Ponder may not be a veteran of the 49ers locker room but he has been around the NFL long enough to be able to offer an educated opinion on what makes a good locker room. With all of the talk over the past few days about creating a winning culture, questions arise: What type of culture does this locker room have? What steps can you make to change it into a winning culture. Ponder frankly pointed the finger at the players, not the coaches.
Ponder elaborated, saying it’s not that there’s a lack of professionalism per se, but he offered the opinion that a few players could have been in their playbook more than they had been. By his comments, its seems that no matter who the new HC and GM end up being, the players still have to be accountable for their play on the field. He also mentioned that they need, “more guys in leadership roles to step up and steer guys in the right direction.”
Last preseason there was talk about players needing to be more responsible about taking care of their bodies, and now more information about players needing to be more accountable on and off the field. This team is young and needs guidance from both the veteran players and the coaching staff. Ponder closed out his interview with his thoughts on Chip Kelly, who he said he learned a lot from through Kelly’s asking the question “why.”
Here’s the full transcript:
Do you want to be back next season?
I hope to be back. I hope to be competing for a role here. especially with how the quarterback room looks now, who knows if any of those four guys that are on the team now will be back. My guess is that they will draft a guy in the first or second round and so I’d love to be in a role as like the veteran guy or whatever. I’d love to be back but again who knows, when you get a new GM and a new coach.
Was it disappointing nothing able to get out there?
Yeah, I think anyone would want to get out there and play, and I was just fortunate to have a role on the team. You know, I was sitting on my butt last year. It was good to be on a team again and thought I did well in practice and got that second spot. But yeah, I would have loved to play.
Did this reignite your passion to play?
It did, it did. Taking a year off last year really helped me and being able to experience this again was a great joy and although we went 2-14 I have a lot of good memories with my teammates and and the coaches and it made me realize that I really love the game of football and I want to keep playing.
There has been a lot of talk about creating a wining culture. Can you put your finger on something that is missing in the culture?
I think this is a very young team. I think that there are a few older guys in key positions but overall it’s a pretty young team so we just gotta get these young guys going in the right direction. You need more guys in leadership roles to step up and steer guys in the right direction. I think it was a weird year. It was a year where the ball didn't really bounce our way that much and we just didn't play well. I think a lot of that’s on the players, not necessarily on the coaches. It’ll be the guys in this locker room who are going to have to make things change.
What are players hoping for at this point?
I don’t really know, I think guys kinda go their separate ways this offseason and hopefully work hard and get prepared for OTAs and you know, obviously it’s not up to us what’s going to happen but you hopefully get a coach who has a winning history and experience and a guy you can trust who’s going to steer us in the right direction.
Have you seen a lack of professionalism among the players?
I wouldn’t say there was a lack of professionalism, I think there were a few guys who could spend more time in the playbook. I think there were a lot of mental errors throughout the year that made it tough on us in certain positions. So you’d like some of the older guys to step up and kind of hold guys accountable. I think that will be a big key going forward is accountability with players.
You haven’t been here for all of the change but how difficult is it when there’s constant change?
It’s obviously not as easy as if you had the same system for 18 years but you know you kind of roll with it. It’s nice that with a new head coach you get those two extra weeks of OTAs and you get enough time to learn the system before the season starts and obviously the longer you’re in the system the more comfortable you’ll be but you gotta deal with it. You can't make excuses, you just gotta do it, you gotta be professional, we’re all pros here and you gotta put the time in to learn what you're doing and play well otherwise you’re going to be out the door.
When you're talking about the guys needing more time in the playbook, how much is on the coaching staff, how much on the players?
I think it’s definitely more on the players. I think the coaches did what they tried to do and make sure guys were on the same level. We spent so much time in walk thru and practice and spent a lot of time in meetings trying to correct things. Ultimately its on the players shoulders to fix those things and when you have a certain amount of guys doing it it’s tough for the coaches to fix it.
What kind of qualities did you see from Chip Kelly as a head coach?
He really cared about the players. I think he had great relationships with the guys. He was always a guy that was a positive guy. He was more of an encourager than he was a guy that can jump on somebody and be negative. He still did that sometimes at practice but I really enjoyed being around him. He was unlike any coach I've ever had before. He was really good at asking the question “why?” Why are we doing certain things? Just because we’ve done it for so many years? Is this really necessary? So I really appreciate him a lot. I learned a lot from him.