Sunday slant: Bridgewater stating strong case

There will be mistakes along the way, but Teddy Bridgewater has shown a lot in the six weeks since he was drafted. If that progress continues throughout training camp and the preseason, he could be the opening-day starter and the coaching staff doesn't sound afraid to make that decision.

Teddy Bridgewater's two practices missed were quickly washed away over the next two weeks.

Bridgewater missed two organized team activities to attend the NFLPA's Rookie Premiere, but as OTAs turned into minicamp, it was becoming increasingly clear that coaches were looking to learn more about Bridgewater's readiness as Christian Ponder was pushed decisively into the background.

Matt Cassel might still have the lead on the starting job for the Minnesota Vikings in 2014, but Bridgewater appeared to be closing quickly as minicamp progressed.

"I've never had a problem playing young guys," head coach Mike Zimmer said when asked about the rookies. "We've had guys that when I was in Dallas we drafted high and started the first day they walked in. We've had several guys in Cincinnati. Geno Atkins played a ton. Carlos Dunlap played a ton his rookie year."

So did quarterback Andy Dalton, who has started every game and compiled a 30-18-0 record since being drafted in 2011. Zimmer, who wasn't in charge of that decision, said circumstances in Cincinnati in 2011 are different from the Vikings in 2014. They are, in two ways, at least.

The Bengals didn't really have much competition to push Dalton, a second-round pick after the Vikings' selection of Ponder in the first round. But the rookie still won the job. In Minnesota, Cassel is the veteran who could very well win the job he likely should have been given at the start of last year.

The other difference between Dalton and Bridgewater? The latter just looks more and more like he could seize the job with ideal QB skills if his progress continues in training camp and the preseason. Certainly, he has the best raw skills of the three options – the quickest release, what appears to be a surprisingly good pocket presence for a rookie, and accuracy that would flabbergast Josh Freeman.

And although Bridgewater, at this early point, looks like the selection that will erase the Ponder mistake, the rookie is wise enough to continue to compliment his veteran teammates, even if it doesn't always make sense.

"I'm able to learn from Matt and Christian; watch the little details in those guys' passing game and really their footwork when they're throwing the deep ball," Bridgewater said. "I can always learn from those guys. I just try to continue to get better and work on every aspect that I can work on."

Just one piece of advice for Bridgewater, if we may: Do not watch Ponder's footwork too much. Despite him being three years into his career, even in minicamp, when the emphasis is on the installation and reads more than the results, he was pulling the ball down and running. That's not Bridgewater and it shouldn't be him. Ponder tried to survive with his legs. Bridgewater should thrive with his arm.

He also seems to get the mental part of the game, realizing that others on offense look to their quarterback for leadership. He isn't in their faces, but Bridgewater hasn't been afraid to tell a receiver when he is lined up wrong.

"I look to Adrian (Peterson), Matt, those guys, Greg (Jennings), and those guys have had success in the National Football League. I'm interested in learning from those guys from a mentoring standpoint," he said. "When things aren't going so good, how would they react and how would they carry themselves? And when things are going good, what's their demeanor and what's their posture?"

Bridgewater also comes with a work ethic that is critical to the position, especially at a young age. Already, his coaches have been impressed.

"Teddy is so great to be around that it's easy," offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. "As Coach Zimmer has said, he knows how to work. He's very instinctive. He's a very natural player."

That was on display throughout offseason practices. Sure, there was the occasional miss that would go off a receiver's hands and be directed toward a potential interception. But if offseason accuracy was the contest, Bridgewater won that all day, every day.

In the process, he appeared to alter some perceptions – or misperceptions – about him.

"One of the things that has been the most impressive to me is I knew he'd be very accurate. I knew he'd make great decisions, quick decisions, but he's been outstanding throwing the ball deep, which some people thought that was going to be an issue," Turner said. "I think in the six or eight weeks we've had him on the field, I think he's been put in a position where he's had to make most of the throws he would have to make and I think he can make all the throws he needs to make."

He looks to have the best arm of the three quarterback candidates, perhaps because he throws the tightest spiral. And, so far, he's generally kept his cool under duress – or so much as applying pressure is possible during unpadded practices.

In the hurry-up sessions of minicamp, he was nearly flawless. On the final day, he directed the offense to 70-yard touchdown drive in less than the one minute, 45 seconds he was given, mostly with check-down passes but capping it with a perfectly thrown 30-yard pass to the corner of the end zone to rookie receiver Kain Colter.

"I think the biggest thing is just knowing who my weapons are and what I have on the field, knowing the play in and out, knowing where to go with the football and just knowing what to do with protection, and just being on time," he said about his performance under pressure. "Third down's a critical down in the football game, and we're trying to have great success, and we work on it every day to just maximize every opportunity that we can get on third-down reps, so I think that those little things, being on time, knowing where to go with the football, is going to help when it comes to third downs."

Some believe playing a rookie quarterback is a decision that tempts peril. Throwing them into the fray too soon could fray their confidence. But Zimmer appears to be a coach intent on playing the best man for the job, and that just might end up being Bridgewater before the start of the season.

"I don't know that, if it's a risk. I think with that position you have to weigh a lot of different factors. How the defense is, where you're at in the progression of things," Zimmer said. "Maybe more so at that position than when you're talking about a safety that handles different things.

"We, as the Vikings, are not afraid to do anything. We're going to make sure that we're diligent in getting this team prepared the best we can. We're hoping we can continue to compete for jobs and get the best guys out there ready to go."

So, the question, as we pose in our upcoming season preview issue of the Viking Update Magazine is this: Teddy, you ready?


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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