When the Vikings open their training camp next weekend, the three players everyone will be watching closest will be the guys wearing the red jerseys. You don’t need me to tell you that the quarterback position is the most important in the game, and choosing the right one may very well be the most important decision new head coach Mike Zimmer makes during his first camp.
So to kick off our position-by-position training camp preview, let’s start with the quarterbacks.
WHERE THINGS STAND: Last month, at the start of the team’s three-day mandatory minicamp, Zimmer declared that the quarterback competition was open and that veterans Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder and first-round rookie Teddy Bridgewater all would get a shot. But Cassel is the favorite, right? “I’ve never said that,” Zimmer said. “I know I’ve heard other people say it but I’ve never said it.” While Zimmer didn’t see any sense in declaring a starter or even his frontrunner in June, the distribution of reps throughout the minicamp -- and all other offseason workouts open to media for that matter -- spoke volumes. Cassel and Bridgewater split the majority of the June reps, with Cassel spending most of those workouts throwing to the starters.
CAMP BATTLE TO WATCH: While I have learned while covering the NFL to never say never when it comes to pretty much everything, it appears that this is shaping up to be a two-way battle between Cassel and Bridgewater with Ponder likely watching from the sideline when he isn’t throwing to journeymen and undrafted rookies. In March, the Vikings re-signed Cassel to a two-year, $10 million contract to be the “bridge” to their quarterback of the future, which turned out to be Bridgewater, the 32nd overall pick in May’s draft. The fact that Bridgewater was the last pick in the first round theoretically buys the Vikings some time to avoid rushing him out onto the field. But Bridgewater was the most pro-ready quarterback prospect in this year’s draft and recent history shows that first-round quarterbacks end up starting sooner than later.
THE BURNING QUESTION: Obviously, who Zimmer picks is kind of important, but when will Zimmer actually make the decision? Zimmer said during the minicamp that he has a date in mind by which he wants to make the decision, not that he was sharing it with us reporters. But he did acknowledge that it will be important for the chosen starter -- whether it is Cassel or Bridgewater or even Ponder -- to settle in with the starters so the offense can get into a groove by Week 1.