Quarterback Todd Bouman is a perfect example of the importance of personnel decisions made way back in August during the dog days of summer with two-a-day practices and the infamous visits from "The Turk."
To keep the guy who can help you more right now, or carry the younger guy with zero experience but a little more upside potential? That's the question. At least that is always the question in August training camps.
Head coach Dennis Green faced such a question back in 1997 and 1998 as he contemplated his No. 3 and No. 4 quarterback options. At the time, nobody was that interested in guys going on the practice squad or even guys making the roster as third-stringers.
But during Green's regime in Minnesota, even those guys have a purpose. If not for the present, then for the future.
Bouman is such a case.
As an undrafted rookie free agent from St. Cloud State back in 1997, most considered Bouman to simply be a hometown camp body for training camp. But Green and his coaching staff saw more long-range potential in Bouman than virtually every other team in the league at that time.
"We did what we have never done before, put a quarterback on the practice squad," Green said. "We were impressed with him. We have never had a quarterback on the practice squad since then or even before then. But we did keep four quarterbacks that particular time because we thought that Todd was a good prospect."
Green faced another point of critical decision in the career path of Bouman the next year in training camp, as well. A journeyman-type free agent named Jay Fiedler competed with Bouman throughout training camp. As the Vikings entered their record-breaking 1998 season, Green released Fiedler in favor of Bouman.
Fiedler was brought back later that season when it looked like neither Brad Johnson nor Randall Cunningham would be able to play, but Fiedler has since gone on to start for a playoff-bound Miami Dolphins team the past two seasons.
The following summer, the Vikings sent Bouman to the NFL Europe League, where he led the 1999 Barcelona Dragons to a berth in the World Bowl and ranked second in the league in passing attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns. His quarterback rating of 77.7 was good, but not great. But, more importantly, Bouman got some very valuable experience and really developed as a leader.
Yet even after another full season (1999) of holding the clipboard as the No. 3 quarterback, some still lacked confidence in him making the climb to No. 2 on the depth chart as Bubby Brister was signed for that slot last season.
This year, the No. 2 spot was finally Bouman's. Despite some preseason rumors of acquiring an experienced veteran, Green publicly supported Bouman and backed it up with his actions — both in squashing those rumors and in handing him the ball for his first NFL start last Sunday against a tough Tennessee Titans defense.
All he did was set team records for attempts (31), completions (21), yards (348) and touchdowns (4) for a quarterback starting his game.
"I think he was fantastic," Green said. "(He showed) good poise. He's been around here four years, knows the system very well, played with a lot of confidence. He was able to check off a few times and make some big plays off of it, and then was able to get rid of the ball quickly. When he had to run, he had a key first down on a scramble. He's very athletic. So he played very well."
All-Pro wide receiver Cris Carter agreed. "He played well," Carter said. "He made some crucial throws. He's at such an advantage. I think it's like Brad (Johnson). Everybody always talked about Brad when he was the backup. Can he play? Can he play? But I would say they are very, very similar because they really understand the system, know where the people are going to be. I thought that he would do well."
So now, a guy who was a major question mark to at least many outside of the organization is a guy who everyone now knows can step in and do the job when called upon.
"He's got an excellent work ethic, works hard, believes in his game, and (is) very confident, and plays like he is confident," Green added. "So we love the fact that a guy can develop and become the player that he sees himself being. That's the role that we play. He plays a role and we play a role, and there is always satisfaction when a guy can achieve what he sets out to achieve."
Thankfully, Bouman was patient enough to stay with his hometown team.
"Maybe I could have gone somewhere else," Bouman said. "But, at this point, I probably would have gone there to be a backup, so why would I want to go somewhere else and be a backup? And with the players we have here, if you have a chance to go in and play, things should go well because you have a lot of great players around you."
Reportedly in the first year of a three-year, incentive-laden contract through the 2003 season that calls for about $750,000 per year, Bouman could draw some interest around the league during the offseason.
"There's no doubt that he's one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league and that he should be starting in the league," said Baltimore Ravens backup quarterback Randall Cunningham, the former Viking who played ahead of Bouman in Minnesota. "A lot of people knew about Todd, but the Vikings wouldn't let him go. No one knew his stock, but the cat is out of the bag now."
Still, there's no quarterback controversy in Minnesota.
"Daunte Culpepper is our starting quarterback," Green clarified.
"I know what I'm here to do, and that's to be the backup," Bouman said. "When it's my time to go in and play, if I'm needed, then I go in and play. That's the way it is. He should be the starter. When he's healthy, he should play. You have to accept your role, and I do."
Bouman's Success Not Instantaneous
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