Bridgewater working through rookie ‘grind’

Teddy Bridgewater said his rookie season has been a physical and mental grind.

Sounding better than he did Sunday when he was fighting a cold, Teddy Bridgewater admitted Wednesday that the grind of his rookie season is hitting.

The Minnesota Vikings quarterback is coming off his best performance of the year, a 31-13 win over the Carolina Panthers in his eighth start. Bridgewater completed 15 of 21 passes for 138 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 120.7.

He missed one start after injuring his ankle after his first start.

“This year has been fun for me. It’s been a grind, mentally and physically,” he said Wednesday. “We have a group of veterans here who have been mentoring me and telling me the little secrets to withstand and maintain your body, your health throughout the entire course of a season, whether it’s spending as much time as I can in the training room or the hot tub or the cold tub, just taking care of my body. We have a group of guys who set a good example for us young guys, so I’ve been able to remain healthy for the majority of the season, besides the ankle injury. For the most part, I’ve been able to just play, been having fun on this journey.”

Christian Ponder can relate to ups and downs, both physically and mentally, of a rookie quarterback in the NFL.

Ponder started his rookie season later than Bridgewater in a couple of respects. Ponder didn’t have the full offseason because of a lockout of the players during collective bargaining negotiations. Although the 2011 season started on time, Ponder didn’t play his first game until mid-October while Donovan McNabb struggled as the starter. Ponder ended up starting 10 games.

“We were 3-13, so it was a long year for sure. It’s such a longer season than college and going from that kind of competition in college to the NFL is a big difference,” Ponder said. “Just the amount of preparation each week is a lot more. It is not only physical, but it’s a mental grind and it can be a lot.

“That rookie year you go from all-star (games) to combine training and the draft and everything, that’s a mental grind. You don’t really get a break. I think the second year is easier – you know what to expect, you’re more comfortable with your surroundings and you do get that nice break to recover.”

Bridgewater started his career out right. After relieving an injured Matt Cassel in Week 3, Bridgewater’s first start, against the Atlanta Falcons, offered much promise. The 317 yards passing remains his high-water mark of his rookie season. Completing 19 of 30 passes also produced a 98.9 passer rating, which until last Sunday was his best of the season.

After that, the struggles started. After coming back from a one-game absence with a sprained ankle, he threw three interceptions and no touchdowns against the Detroit Lions, producing a season-low 41.3 rating. It wasn’t much better the following week against another formidable defense with the Buffalo Bills. He threw his first NFL touchdown, but also tossed two interceptions.

For him, the physical toll has been greater than the mental grind.

“If you think about it, in college, the college regular season just ended this past weekend, then you have the conference championship game. For me, my college season would be over right now, so to have to play four more games, you have to be mentally and physically strong,” he said. “Like I said, our group of veterans have set the bar and set a good example for us young guys and have been telling us what to expect.”

Although the veteran Cassel was knocked out for the season in Week 3 with broken bones in his foot, he continues to attend film sessions and meetings and offer advice there and on the sideline during games.

Zimmer said the “rookie wall” tends to hit players more they aren’t as involved as Bridgewater has been.

“Most of the young guys I’ve had, when they’re playing they don’t really hit that wall. It’s the guys that are kind of not playing near as much, those are the kind of guys with the so-called rookie wall that I see,” Zimmer said. “I don’t see guys that are playing. These guys just play and he studies and I don’t think there will be any issue with that with him.”

Bridgewater has had to deal with numerous changes throughout the season. While the scheme is new for any rookie, it’s also new for all the veterans. He never had the chance to play with Adrian Peterson, who hasn’t been available since Bridgewater became the starter. In addition, the Vikings lost right guard Brandon Fusco after Week 3, right tackle Phil Loadholt after Week 11 and tight end Kyle Rudolph for six games.

And there have been changes at receiver, too, with Cordarrelle Patterson’s role limited last week.

“It’s all about developing some consistency, whether it’s consistency winning games, your performance, or just your work habits,” Bridgewater said. “For me, I just have to just put everything behind me, at the end of the day, like I always say, just play football. When I’m out there on the field, I have 10 other guys in that huddle with me. Those guys are trusting me and they trust that I’m going to do my job, so I continue to trust that those guys are going to do their job. Each week you just gain more confidence and more confidence as you play.”

Through it all, Bridgewater said he is gaining confidence in himself and his ability to diagnose defenses, make the right read quicker and get rid of the ball.

“There are no limits to what we’re capable of doing around here, we just have to continue to work and get to that performance that we had in the Atlanta game. … We have four games left this year; we’re going to make the best of them.”

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