The first-round draft pick is mature beyond his years, and the Vikings are hoping he plays beyond his experience as the second-youngest quarterback to start a game in franchise history. While 10-year veterans love to say that age is just a number, that might be true when it comes to a rookie – at least this rookie – too.
Johnny Manziel flips the bird, pitches for Snickers candy bars and comes illegally off the sideline on a trick play that, as the young crowd would call it, was an epic fail. Teddy is, well, just Teddy. But what is that Teddy?
He’s the guy that has calmly endured his mother going through breast cancer. He’s the guy that came off the bench at Louisville for the 2012 regular-season finale despite a broken left wrist and sprained right ankle and rallied the Cardinals to a 20-17 win over Rutgers. He’s the guy that has taken every criticism to his draft stock in stride while falling from the top-ranked player on some draft analysts’ board to the Vikings’ selection at 32nd overall.
Never a rip on the other teams. Never the self-loathing in the Green Room at the draft. Never a peep from him when the Vikings decided to keep veteran Matt Cassel as their starter after a strong preseason from both of their top quarterbacks. “Teddy being Teddy” is the calm, measured quarterback that seems to take it all in stride and focus on himself and his team. Now, during the biggest week of his career, as he gets a chance to start his first NFL game, his most exciting insight was to reveal that he gave himself “a moment” to reflect on the possibilities last Monday morning after Cassel broke several bones in his left foot Sunday and Bridgewater came on in relief with a relatively efficient effort.
“I gave myself a moment Monday morning. When I woke up, I just told myself, ‘Hey, your dream is finally here, it’s coming true.’ It’s not the way I wanted it to happen,” Bridgewater said. “I’m still just going to have to take advantage of this opportunity. It’s one thing to be named the guy; for me, I just want to continue to be the guy for a long time.”
From this view, it looks like that will be the case. Bridgewater appears to have enough of everything needed to be a successful NFL starting quarterback, and dare we say it, the emerging new face of the franchise.
He has the smarts. We learned that classroom ability isn’t everything, but Bridgewater graduated from Louisville with a 3.5 grade-point average. Better yet, as coaches attest, he is a quick thinker on the field who gets the ball out of his hands. And he learned from his mistakes, going back to wearing gloves (most of time) after a poor pro day without them that knocked him down in the minds of many analysts and perhaps was part of the reason he was available to the Vikings when they traded back into the end of the first round to eagerly add him to their roster.
He has the arm. We saw that throughout the offseason, but he put that into the game plan in his first regular-season action Sunday when he completed the Vikings’ first pass of the season that traveled more than 15 yards down the field. After 11 such attempts from Cassel, Bridgewater hit on his first downfield target with a 30-yard completion to Greg Jennings that traveled 25 yards in the air.
He has the legs. No, he’s not Cam Newton or, gasp, even Christian Ponder in that area, but Bridgewater was efficient and smart in his runs last Sunday. He gained 27 yards on six attempts and slid to protect himself when necessary, which is even more important with Cassel out for the rest of the season. One of those runs was a designed quarterback draw, but the others were just sound decisions when the defense wasn’t respecting that facet of his game.
But the most impressive trait is Bridgewater’s poise in the pocket. He gets to the back of his drop quickly, moves incredibly efficiently in the pocket and keeps his vision downfield looking for receivers. That isn’t easily taught and Bridgewater has poise in abundance. The poise could be the most important factor as teams will likely look to fluster him in the initial stages of his career. But, as the Vikings pointed out on their web site, the Falcons, this week’s opponent, aren’t heavy on the blitz – blitzing three times in 30 first-down passes, nine times in 41 second-down passes, and eight times in 34 third-down attempts – all in the bottom 10 of the league per down.
Coaches also pointed to Bridgewater’s early success at Louisville. He took over as the starting quarterback there in his fourth game, just as he will in his NFL career. He went on to win 27 of his 36 games at the school known more for its basketball history than football success.
“I think he’s a pretty composed individual, anyway. He always has been around here,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “Nothing really flusters him. He’s always been great in the blitz period, the two-minute period, all of the pressure situations that we have him in.
“… The kid has all of the talent in the world. He’s smart, he’s tough, he’s a quick thinker and makes quick decisions, quick with his feet, quick with his drops. I’m excited about watching him, especially at home with our fans.”
It’s not an ideal circumstance for Bridgewater. He doesn’t have the bell cow of the franchise over the last seven years, Adrian Peterson, keeping defenses focused on the running game. He doesn’t have the go-to tight end, Kyle Rudolph, that can be such a friendly bail-out option for a young quarterback.
But what Bridgewater does have is quiet moxie.
He will be asked to take on audibles and change protections, just like he did at Louisville, and showed serious signs of his adeptness at that aspect in the preseason and during training camp.
Bridgewater seems unaffected by it all.
“It’s no pressure toward me and it’s not all about me,” he said.
He will have to rely on a defense to keep the Vikings in it against the NFL’s top offense Sunday, but on offense it will be all about Teddy. And that’s not likely to change for years to come.
It’s very early in the process, but from an observer that has seen Daunte Culpepper, Tarvaris Jackson and Christian Ponder go in and out of the starting lineup as the next great hope at quarterback, Bridgewater easily looks the most ready of the lot. It’s his show and fans should be excited about the possibilities. Zimmer is certainly comfortable with the situation.
“He’s ready,” Zimmer said. “He’s been ready. Honestly, I think he’s been ready since the day he walked in. I’m good.”
“It’s fairly indescribable, to be honest with you,” Greenway said of the pain on Friday. “Anybody that’s had a (broken) rib before, it’s much respect for the ribs.”
“I think he’s doing better with his technique,” Zimmer said. “He’s got good athleticism. We look for corners that can get in and out of breaks and cover people, so he has those traits.”