Johnny Manziel has been misinterpreted. All he was trying to tell his opponents Monday night was that he had more talent in his one middle finger than they had on their entire bench.
If the more popular theory is true, and Manziel made an obscene gesture with 382 cameras trained on him, then we are entering a season in which two rookie quarterbacks drafted in the first round might have been defined by their hands.
Johnny Manziel stuck up his finger. Teddy Bridgewater went back to his glove.
Manziel is the most compelling rookie in the league. The Browns chose him with the 22nd overall pick despite his reputation as an undisciplined player and human.
Bridgewater might prove to be the most undervalued player in the draft. The Vikings chose him with the 32nd pick after offensive coordinator Norv Turner advised the organization to disregard Bridgewater’s terrible performance during the workout in which he threw without his familiar passing glove.
Each is a talented quarterback who defies the former, and awful, stereotypes attached to the color of his skin. Manziel improvises, using his athletic ability to make spectacular plays. Bridgewater is a classic drop-back passer who ran for only 170 yards in three seasons at Louisville.
Manziel might win a title in Cleveland, and Bridgewater wouldn’t be the most accomplished college quarterback to fail in the pros, but at the moment, you’d have to judge Bridgewater to be better, and luckier.
The great quarterbacks of this century aren’t just studious; they are savvy and composed. They can handle tough questions at a news conference, as well as an all-out blitz. They are defined much more by the speed of the processors in their brains than the strength of the tendons in their elbows.
They are much more like Bridgewater than Manziel.
Most of the great quarterbacks of recent vintage have something else in common: They landed with the right team.
Manziel was drafted by an organization considered a joke around the league. His best receiver, Josh Gordon, might not play this season. His team can’t run the ball. The quarterback he’s competing with, Brian Hoyer, is neither good enough to allow Manziel to ease into the league as a backup, nor experienced enough to act as a mentor.
Manziel is being asked to save one of the worst franchises in sports while he’s trying to learn the playbook.
Bridgewater is playing behind a veteran, Matt Cassel, who knows the league and is willing to share information. The two can be seen during games and after practices talking nonstop, as they were when they left the practice field Tuesday at Winter Park.
Cassel is good enough to give Bridgewater time to learn without the pressure of playing immediately, but not so established that he will keep Bridgewater out of the lineup when the younger quarterback is ready to play.
Bridgewater is playing with a great running back and underrated receivers, and for a general manager whose reputation is tied to Bridgewater’s fate, and working with an offensive coordinator that tight end Kyle Rudolph recently called a genius.
It is not coincidental that Cassel and Bridgewater have both thrived this preseason, or that Rudolph suddenly looks like a star. Norv Turner tends to have that effect on players.
While leading the Vikings to a game-winning drive on Saturday night, Bridgewater faced relentless blitzes.
“I think he’s got outstanding composure,” Turner said. “I thought he got rid of those butterflies from Week 1, and in Week 2 he played differently. The first game he turned down four or five passes he could have thrown. He was too quick to leave the pocket, and he made that adjustment in just one week.
“That’s pretty good. He doesn’t get rattled.”
If Manziel can’t mimic Bridgewater’s cool, maybe he could at least borrow one of Bridgewater’s gloves. It might restrict the movement of certain fingers.