Teddy leaned on McNabb, learned as rookie

Teddy Bridgewater used Donovan McNabb for advice during his rookie season and grew in his confidence as a leader.

In his first year in the NFL, Teddy Bridgewater leaned on a former No. 5-wearing jersey for the Minnesota Vikings.

Bridgewater’s first year in the NFL was better than Donovan McNabb’s final year in the NFL – both with the Vikings – but Bridgewater found McNabb to be a helpful voice of experience.

“Throughout the draft process and throughout the course of this season I’ve been in touch with Donovan McNabb a lot,” Bridgewater said Monday as he prepared for his Winter Park exit after his rookie season. “He’s a guy who had success in this league, even though he couldn’t get over that hump to get them a ring. But he’s a guy who had success in this league and he’s someone that I look toward as a mentor or for guidance.”

Bridgewater didn’t enter his rookie season as the Vikings’ starter, but when veteran Matt Cassel was lost with broken bones in his foot, Bridgewater moved into the starting role. He missed one game with a sprained ankle, but started 12 of 13 games played, completing 64.4 percent of his passes for 2,919 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for an 85.2 passer rating.

McNabb, after 12 years with the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins, finished out his career with the Vikings in 2011. He was supposed to be the veteran bridge until rookie Christian Ponder was ready, but McNabb started only six games before he was benched after completing 60.3 percent of his passes and managing only 1,026 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions in those six contests.

Bridgewater said he talked to McNabb about once a month since he became the final pick of first round in the 2014 draft.

“It’s just one of those deals where he’s busy with his TV production and everything, and I’ve been busy with the season,” Bridgewater said.

While McNabb had to wait until the player lockout of 2011 concluded as training camps opened to sign with the Vikings, Bridgewater put in a full offseason preparing for his initial season in purple and proved to be one of the top rookie signal-callers in the NFL in recent years. He finished with a 6-6 record, despite being without Adrian Peterson for every one of his starts and missing numerous other starters for various lengths of the season.

It was the first year of Norv Turner’s offensive system in Minnesota and Bridgewater is looking to build off the momentum the team gained by winning three of their last five games.

“We have an understanding of what the coaching staff is trying to do here. We have a great understanding of the system now,” he said. “It will be pretty exciting heading to this offseason and heading to our second year in the system.

“We have a better understanding of what Coach Turner is trying to do now with this system. It’s going to be a unique thing being able to play your second year with them after playing just 12 games and seeing how good we could be. I think we’re going to be a more aggressive team. We had some success this year in the no-huddle. It’ll be pretty exciting to see where we’re at next season.”

Bridgewater said he hopes to have his receiving corps with him for a week or two in Miami during the offseason to grow closer and work on getting better.

He believes he has a much better understanding of Turner’s system after starting 12 games, and second-year receiver Cordarrelle Patterson even mentioned Bridgewater along with some offensive coaches as having a full understanding of the offense.

A rookie no more, Bridgewater was happy with the progress he made in his initial season, citing his decision-making and understanding of the offense as two key areas of growth.

“Just me being more decisive, not overthinking things and playing my game, I think I did a better job of doing that, and the guys around me also just helped and contributed to that,” he said. “They would always come to me on the sidelines or even around the facility and remind me, ‘Hey, just play your game and just have fun.’”

His teammates also saw his growth as a leader, and the low-key signal-caller said he gained more confidence with his leadership role as the season progressed.

“There were sometimes the guys, they called me a mute because I would joke around on the sideline and in the pregame and I would sing songs and tell jokes with those guys, but the moment that first whistle was blown for that first kickoff of the game I would just get silent and just continue to lock in,” Bridgewater said. “But the guys around here, they’ve allowed me to be more assertive with them. We have a great group of men here that they will take leadership, whether it’s from the coaching staff or from the youngest player on the team. It just shows the character that we have here.

“As you gain experience, you gain confidence and I’m a firm believer of that. Each week I was able to gain more and more confidence. It just allowed me to continue to open up to the guys and just have fun. This here, we have fun around here. We love playing for one another. We love playing for this coaching staff. It’s just all about each week gaining that confidence and gaining that experience.”

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