'Steady Teddy' Can Be A Vikings' Leader For Years To Come
After trading their second and fourth round picks to the Seattle Seahawks, the last pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft belonged to the Minnesota Vikings, they used it to nab 20-year old quarterback Teddy Bridgewater from the University of Louisville at No. 32. The Vikings originally wanted to select Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, but passed on him at No. 9 in favor of outside linebacker Anthony Barr, and were unable to trade up in the draft afterwards—the Cleveland Browns selected Manziel at No. 22.
The Vikings' inability to secure Manziel may prove to be a best-case scenario for the franchise. Taking over as play caller for Minnesota after starting QB Matt Cassel was injured in Week 3 of the 2014 season, Bridgewater went 6-6 in the tough NFC North. Going .500 as a rookie is doubly impressive when considering that Minnesota was both without their main offensive player in running back Adrian Peterson, who was suspended with six games left in the season for violating the league's personal conduct policy after being charged with child abuse.
The Vikings have long relied on Peterson rather than a franchise quarterback to carry the offense, so Bridgewater's role throughout 2014 was an acclimation process for him, as well as the coaching staff and even the fans. Instead of alongside Peterson, his 12-game rookie season was spent under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who coached the Dallas Cowboys to consecutive Super Bowl wins in 1992 and 1993.
Once Cassel went out, Bridgewater had the responsibility of leading an offense with one of the worst offensive lines in the league and an unreliable receiving corps. Understandably, Bridgewater played conservatively and had to go through the growing pains that rookies experience, but what was interesting was his improvement from the first six to final six games of the season.
In games one to six, Bridgewater completed 125 of 205 pass attempts for a 60.9% completion rate and 1,329 yards, throwing four touchdowns. In games seven to twelve, Bridgewater completed 122 of 177 attempts for a 68.9% completion rate and 1,440 yards with eight touchdowns.
In those first 12 starts, Bridgewater also showed his composure on the field. He was able to move in the pocket, work under pressure, and end 2014 with a 64.4% completion percentage, which is third all-time amongst rookies (after Ben Roethlisberger and Robert Griffin III). Bridgewater's steadfastness on the field also translates to a calm, unemotional persona off the field. Bridgewater's philosophy is to never call attention to himself, and instead focus on the bigger issue: winning games.
I'm one of those guys who never tries to get too high, never tries to get too low because I know I play a position where the eyes are always on you," Bridgewater said. "If you throw a touchdown and you're excited and happy on the sideline, the camera is on you. If you throw an interception, the camera goes right to the quarterback. They want to see you throwing your helmet, slapping Gatorade bottles, and I'm not that guy. I kind of hold it all in, go on the sideline, put a towel over my head and then hit the reset button and I'm ready to go.
Bridgewater's gradual improvement has continued into his sophomore year. The Vikings have entered their bye week with a 2-2 record, and Bridgewater had arguably the best start of his career in Week 4's 23-20 loss to the Denver Broncos. He completed 27 of 41 passes for 269 yards and no interceptions, and also gained the respect of the Broncos.
"(Bridgewater) got the ball out fast," Broncos cornerback Chris Harris said. "Anytime you can win, you take it. I mean that team, they have to be a playoff team."
The Broncos are widely considered to be the best team in the AFC, so the Vikings close game against them was an especially hard loss to swallow. Bridgewater was able to lead two scoring drives in the second half to tie the score, but his heroics came short and highlighted the biggest weakness on the team, which is their pass protection.
Bridgewater was sacked seven(!) times, and could have went down even more if not for his athleticism. Two of the sacks came in the Vikings' final drive of a game, a drive that also saw Bridgewater scramble for a first down. In other words, Bridgewater had a breakout game but no win to show for it due to glaring issues on Minnesota's offense.
Once projected as a potential first overall pick, Bridgewater's lack of arm strength and smaller stature were what dropped him in the draft. In his first sixteen starts in the big leagues, however, he has showcased traits that do not show up on stat sheets or scouting reports, and also shown that his weaknesses can be improved on.
The Vikings may have failed to consummate their trade for Johnny Football, but acquiring Steady Teddy instead is not just a great consolation prize, but is also the addition of a franchise player who, with continued development and some help from the front office, has the potential to lead the Vikings into the playoffs and beyond.