The preseason doesn’t typically carry a lot of excitement, especially opening weekend. Most of the projected starters are solidly entrenched in their roles with the team and the primary purpose of those games is to fill out the back half of the roster. But the Vikings have a different approach coming in, making the in-game competition between quarterbacks Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater this week’s matchup to watch.
Since the day he re-signed with the Vikings, the belief has been that Cassel would be the starter to open the season, while the Vikings crossed their fingers that a rookie quarterback they coveted would be available in the draft. Their wish came true when Bridgewater was still available with the final pick of the first round and the Vikings swung a trade to acquire him.
Both head coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner have claimed that the competition to be the starting quarterback is going to be fair and wide open. Friday’s game will be the first opportunity for both to make their case why each should be the starter. However, the playing field may not be completely equal in the first preseason game.
Cassel is expected to start and play against the Raiders first-team defense, which is much improved with the veteran additions of defensive linemen LaMarr Woodley, Justin Tuck and Antonio Smith and cornerback Carlos Rogers. They also used the fifth pick in May’s draft on explosive linebacker Khalil Mack. The Raiders have mixed and matched their defense through free agency and the draft and all of them will be working in game situations for the first time together, looking to impress the new coaching staff. Cassel will have his work cut out for him against a group that looks to be better from the defense that wasn’t all that bad last year.
By the time Bridgewater gets into the game, most or all of those players could be on the sidelines and he will be facing the Raiders’ second-team defense. Bridgewater will likely finish out the first half and will have his numbers compared directly with Cassel’s despite not playing against the top players from Oakland’s defense.
There is all likelihood that fans are going to support Bridgewater in his quest to become the starter because the hope is that he can become one of the faces of the franchise. The same isn’t true with Cassel. While he was the best of the three quarterbacks the Vikings had last season, he didn’t set the world on fire when he was playing and was part of the reason the Vikings felt obligated to draft Bridgewater when he was available at the end of the first round.
Many believe that it will only be a matter of time before Bridgewater supplants Cassel as the starter and the primary question only seems to be when it will happen. Can Bridgewater show enough in the preseason to win the job outright before opening day? Will he spend the entire season as Cassel’s backup?
The process of determining who will be the Vikings starting quarterback when the season starts Sept. 7 at St. Louis officially begins Friday, even though the situation may dictate that the playing field won’t be level in the competition – Cassel facing the starters and Bridgewater likely facing the second-stringers. It may give Bridgewater a bit of an early edge in the competition, which makes this the preseason opening matchup to watch.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Key matchup: Equal quarterback competition?
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