Vikings’ deep pre-camp preview: Quarterbacks

With training in sight, we break down every position for the Vikings, analyzing the stats, money spent on the position, the effectiveness, the outlook, potential breakout players and sleepers. The series opens with a Vikings sore spot, quarterbacks.

The players: Matt Cassel, Teddy Bridgewater, Christian Ponder.

Roster numbers: Last year, the Vikings had three quarterbacks on their season-ending roster, and they have three this year to start training camp.

Positional spending: $10.23 million (18th in the NFL). After signing a two-year, $10.5 million contract in March, Cassel is sixth on the team with a $5.75 million cap number in 2014. However, Ponder is 12th at $3.23 million, and that’s a heavy number to carry for a player that might not see the field on game days.

Last year: Ponder made the most starts (nine) and played in 52 percent of the snaps, but still ended with fewer yards (1,648) and touchdowns (seven) than Cassel and had the same number of interceptions (nine). Cassel played the good soldier during the 2013 offseason, saying he was well aware of the Vikings’ plans to have Ponder be the starter and he would be the veteran backup. However, after Ponder’s ineffectiveness – on two different stretches, the last one leading to the Josh Freeman debacle – Cassel was eventually awarded the starting seat. He played in 44 percent of the snaps, completing 60.2 percent of his passes for 1,807 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

The outlook: Cassel entered and exited the offseason workouts as the favorite to be the starter, but when those workouts commenced with the veteran minicamp given to new coaches before the draft, it was just him and Ponder working the position. After six weeks of seeing Bridgewater, the 32nd overall draft selection, there is renewed competition for Cassel as he learns another new offense.

Bridgewater looked poised in the pocket, has a lightning-quick release that allows him to find receivers in small windows between coverage and a good enough arm to make all the throws. If the starting job came down to only ideal quarterback traits (arm strength, accuracy, quickness of release, pocket presence), it might be handed to Bridgewater. With a strong preseason in game action, Bridgewater could give Cassel a run for his first-team reps, but there is always the fear of rushing a rookie into the starting spot too soon, especially at quarterback, and setting him back if doesn’t succeed early.

That said, head coach Mike Zimmer said after drafting Bridgewater that one of the reasons he liked the quarterback is that he has won early at every level of his career.

Zimmer also said the Vikings aren’t afraid to play rookies.

“Teddy will play when we feel like he’s ready if he’s the best guy, which we hope that he will,” Zimmer said.

But at the same time, Spielman cautioned that the Vikings are in an ideal position with a veteran, Cassel, ready to start and Ponder also on the roster with previous starting experience.

“Teddy will come in and he has plenty of time to sit there and develop,” Spielman said after the draft. “One of the things we wanted to do if we got another quarterback was not force him in before he’s ready to play. … Internally, we know what we have in our current quarterbacks and we know whatever quarterback we were going to take that he has definitely time to sit back, to learn, to develop and we can be patient with that.”

Deep stats: The Vikings finished a respectable 13th in total offense in 2013, but it was due mainly to their running game, which ranked eighth. Their passing game finished 23rd.

They finished seventh in passing yards per play (7.52), but when it came to the generally accepted mark of quarterback effectiveness – passer rating – Cassel finished 30th in the league at 81.6 and Ponder was 32nd at 77.9. The problem with both was their propensity for interceptions. Cassel ranked 30th in the league with a 3.5 interception percentage and Ponder was 32nd at 3.8 percent.

Breakout possibility: With Ponder fading into the distance, it appears only a matter of time before Bridgewater is the starter, whether that’s in 2014 or 2015. Cassel may end up starting the season, but the biggest upset would be if Bridgewater isn’t at least the No. 2 quarterback.

Sleeper potential: With a limited number of quarterbacks on the roster, the only breakout possibilities are either Bridgewater or possibly a preseason addition if Ponder can’t secure the third spot on the depth chart.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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