Strong: Bridgewater gifted with poise

Teddy Bridgewater's former coach said his toughness and poise in the pocket are among the quarterback's biggest strengths.

For the most part, Teddy Bridgewater is new to Vikings fans. What they know about him has largely been provided by draft talking heads like Mike Mayock, Mel Kiper and a slew of other on-air personalities who lift up and tear apart prospects.

Charlie Strong coached Bridgewater at Louisville and knows him about as well as anyone. The success the two of them shared helped propel Bridgewater to the NFL and Strong to the coveted head coaching job at the University of Texas.

Knowing Bridgewater as well as he does, Strong said he was dismayed at how quickly Bridgewater's stock dropped following his unimpressive pro day performance, but said the Vikings will be a getting a very good player who can develop into a star in the NFL.

"It was just frustrating to watch," Strong said. "You can't take one workout and tell me that the one workout is going to judge who Teddy Bridgewater is and what kind of player he is. I just know this – that football team at the University of Louisville knew that it had a chance to win the game when Teddy Bridgewater had the ball in his hands."

Strong said that the strength of Bridgewater's character has been put to the test over the last month with the mounting criticism directed his way and the subsequent draft-day fall from the blue-chip picks early in the draft to the Vikings with the 32nd pick. Strong said Bridgewater has faced a lot of adversity and always faced the challenges head on.

"Just to see this unfold here the last two weeks, I called him the other day and told him to just be patient – you are who you are. You've never changed for anyone and that's why I really respect you," Strong said. "Even though he was going through what he was going through, he was still standing strong. For him to continue to withstand the onslaught of all the criticism and to still have a smile on his face, it speaks to who he is."

Bridgewater took over the Cardinals starting job as a freshman in a rivalry game against Kentucky and lifted Louisville to a victory. As a sophomore against Rutgers, a critical game for Louisville to get to the Sugar Bowl, he played with a high ankle sprain and a broken wrist. There's no questioning his toughness.

But Strong believes the strong suit Bridgewater brings to the table is that he has as much poise as any young quarterback he has ever seen. He has the innate ability to create space in the pocket and extend plays and, when he has to stand and deliver a strike, he will take the shot that is coming to deliver the pass on time and on target.

"It's natural instincts," Strong said. "We played North Carolina and we turned a (linebacker) loose and he had a straight shot on Teddy. He runs right down the middle and drives his helmet right into his chest and (Teddy) unloads one for a touchdown. He was just so poised in the pocket. He took some big hits, but he still stood in there and threw the ball."

When the pressure was on was when Strong saw Bridgewater at this best. Where many young quarterbacks would bail the pocket and give up on plays, Bridgewater has the innate ability to remain calm, shift himself within the pocket and keep his eyes downfield.

"That was what he did best," Strong said. "He didn't just run away from the pressure because he knew he had to make the throw. If he saw a 'backer coming and the receiver wasn't (open), he would try to head-and-shoulder fake him to keep the play alive. He wasn't one to quickly take off running with the ball."

The draft stock on Bridgewater took a precipitous drop over the last few weeks and Strong is at a loss to explain why. While he isn't sure why it was so pronounced, one thing he is sure of is that the Vikings got themselves a strong-willed, physically and mentally tough player who has a bright future in the NFL and, when he gets his chance, he will prove his skeptics wrong.

"When you see him play and it's time to compete, he turns it on," Strong said. "When he's on the field, there's no nonsense. He's going to be all business and a guy that it totally focused. When it's time to turn it on, it's all business."

Dave-Te' Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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