Vikings' rookie Bridgewater made solid progress during preseason
By Chris Tomasson
St. Paul Pioneer Press
Early in the month, the Vikings quarterback had rookie jitters. He had just a so-so preseason debut against Oakland followed by a pair of shaky practice days during which he threw five interceptions.
“It was like I was walking on eggshells and I can’t make one mistake,” Bridgewater said.
But then Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner spoke to the Bridgewater, taken with the No. 32 pick in May’s NFL draft out of Louisville.
“There were times during training camp when I was thinking that everything had to be perfect, and I found myself struggling for, like, two or three days back to back,” Bridgewater said. “Coach Zimmer and coach Norv Turner, Scott, they just kept coming to me and said, ‘Just play football. We brought you here to play football. You don’t have to overthink things.’ ”
The talks seemed to pay immediate dividends. In Minnesota’s second preseason game, Bridgewater completed 16 of 20 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-28 win over Arizona. He led the Vikings on a winning drive that culminated with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Rodney Smith with 18 seconds left.
That outing and a two-TD-pass showing in the third preseason game weren’t enough for Bridgewater to win the starting job over veteran Matt Cassel. But Bridgewater says he will head into the regular season, which begins Sept. 7 at St. Louis, with the attitude of a starter.
“For me, I just continue to have the mind-set that I’m going to start because I don’t want to take anything away from my talents and my skill set, and I don’t want to cheat myself and cheat the team,” he said. “So, for me, I’m going to approach each day as if I’m the starter. Continue to just support Matt, support the entire offensive unit, support the entire team and just try to continue to learn as much and gain as much knowledge as I can.”
With Cassel resting, Bridgewater got his first NFL start of any kind in Thursday’s preseason finale, a 19-3 win at Tennessee. While his statistics — he completed 4 of 9 passes for 17 yards — hardly were impressive, he did lead Minnesota to 10 points on the two drives he played.
It was enough to impress Zimmer, who said after the game that Teddy “does everything right and he’s getting better each week.”
In four preseason games, Bridgewater completed 30 of 49 passes for 283 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. Entering the regular season, Cassel likely will have to win early to hold onto his job.
“If (Cassel) doesn’t play well and the team struggles, then there’s going to be a lot of pressure to play the other guy quickly,” CBS analyst and former Vikings quarterback Rich Gannon said.
Bridgewater is figuring out he unquestionably has the talent to play in the NFL. While obviously he will need to continue to make strides in the mental parts of the game, he is showing success so far by playing the way he always has.
“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is it’s still football,” Bridgewater said. “It’s not some chess game where you have to actually take time to think before the play even though there’s still pre-snap reads you have to go through. But at the end of the day, you still have to go out there and play ball.”
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with the Forum News Service