EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Josh Freeman is again an NFL starting quarterback.
Freeman, benched and then released Oct. 3 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was named the latest starting quarterback for the scuffling Minnesota Vikings on Wednesday. Freeman's second week with the team will culminate on Monday night with him leading the offense against the New York Giants.
"It really hasn't been that difficult. Any time you step into a situation where you're the new guy, there's always kind of an awkward getting-to-know-you phase," Freeman said. "But I think that goes back to the character of this organization just from top to bottom: a lot of quality people that are dedicated to winning first and foremost but also being quality human beings off the field. So it's been a smooth adjustment."
Coach Leslie Frazier also said that Christian Ponder will be the backup, not Matt Cassel, assuming Freeman makes it through the week without problems.
"I like the things he's done in his career, along with what he's done since he arrived here with our football team, the time he put in, how well he's adapted to our system," Frazier said. "He's done enough for us to say we want to give him this opportunity, which is something we had in mind when we acquired him. I think now is the time."
Freeman will be the third starter in the last four games for the Vikings (1-4) and the 11th since Daunte Culpepper's season-ending knee injury in 2005.
Freeman was signed by Minnesota to a one-year contract five days after being released by Tampa Bay.
"We're just going to make plays for whoever's in there and just make it as easy as possible," wide receiver Jerome Simpson said.
Freeman started 59 games over four-plus seasons with the Buccaneers. The 25-year-old former first-round draft pick threw for 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 2010, his first full season as a starter, but has been up and down since.
After an 0-3 start, Bucs coach Greg Schianio said Freeman's benching was "performance based." Then a series of media reports followed about Freeman missing a team photo and team meetings, being fined and that he was participating in the NFL substance abuse program because of a mistake in his ADHD medicine. The distractions led to his release after he was replaced by rookie Mike Glennon.
"The underlying questions I've been getting from a lot of people: 'Do I have a chip on my shoulder?' I'm sure I do," Freeman said. "But I think it's more deeply rooted than just the past six months, 12 months."
Frazier said he was impressed by Freeman's first practice with the team.
"From the moment he stepped in the building, he wanted to learn. And the way he handled himself in that practice, it changed my mindset about the possibilities," Frazier said. "We had a time frame in mind originally but watching what he did from the day he arrived, that cemented it for me that sooner was a possibility."
Frazier said he hasn't considered a scenario in which Ponder wouldn't still be on the roster for the rest of the season. Ponder said he wasn't sure about his future here. The trade deadline is Oct. 29. He's under contract with the Vikings through at least 2014.
"I have to figure out what's best for me and everything and for this team. I don't know if that's staying here and going somewhere else," Ponder said.
Ponder started the first three games until he broke a rib. Cassel took over and led the Vikings to their only victory. Frazier said he preferred to keep the factors in his decision to put Ponder ahead of Cassel on the depth chart private.
The coach also said he had full authority to make Freeman the starter. He acknowledged, though, that owners Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf and general manager Rick Spielman were consulted.
"When you're talking about the quarterback position, which affects your entire franchise, this is not a decision you make alone," Frazier said.
The Vikings were on the wrong end of one of Freeman's best games last year, a 36-17 victory at Minnesota when he passed for 262 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
Running back Adrian Peterson was missing from practice because of a personal matter. Frazier said he expected him back on Thursday. The coach declined to specify whether his absence was related to the situation in South Dakota regarding his 2-year-old son, who died last week by alleged abuse. A man is in custody in South Dakota.