Souhan: There's a lot riding on these two first-rounders

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 9, 2014 - 4:02 PM

If there is anything that inspires confidence about the Vikings’ two first-round picks, it is the people who recommended them.

Mike Zimmer, the new head coach, earned his reputation in the NFL as a defensive wizard. When he is part of a decision that lands a speed-rushing linebacker, there is reason to believe Anthony Barr can become a quality player.

Norv Turner, the new offensive coordinator, is called by former Vikings quarterback Brad Johnson “the quarterback whisperer.’’ When he is part of the decision-making team that prompts GM Rick Spielman to trade into the first round to take Teddy Bridgewater, there is reason to believe he can make NFL throws.

With the kind of wheeling and dealing most usually associated with game shows, Spielman has found a way to take five players, including his potential franchise quarterback and a potential All-Pro receiver, in the first round of the past two drafts.

If Bridgewater can play, these two drafts could set up Zimmer to succeed in the long term. If Bridgewater can’t play, Zimmer might outlast Spielman in the Vikings’ organization.

The knock on Bridgewater is that he lacks an NFL-caliber arm, a problem that was exacerbated by his poor performance during his pro day, when he threw in a workout for NFL scouts.

What should be more important than a workout are Bridgewater’s game performances. He completed 71 percent of his passes last season, throwing 31 touchdown passes and just four interceptions. He is a traditional pocket passer known for his ability to feint defenders with his eyes, and he won big at a school never known for football dominance.

Spielman said he worked out Bridgewater three times. Spielman set up a private workout with Bridgewater, and watched him respond to Turner’s coaching. “He was totally different,’’ Spielman said.

The way this works, Spielman, Turner and the Vikings will have their reputations affected far more by the player they took with the 32nd pick than by the one they took with the ninth pick.

“You know what I like about Teddy?’’ Zimmer said. “Everywhere he goes, he wins.’’

Bridgewater throws with accuracy and anticipation. Spielman said he was impressed by Bridgewater playing through injuries during his college career. Zimmer said, “We wouldn’t have traded up to just take anyone.’’

Spielman spoke of Bridgewater’s character. Bridgewater’s mother is a cancer survivor, and she chose not to attend Bridgewater’s private workout with the Vikings because she thought it was important to attend the funeral of a woman who succumbed to the disease.

Spielman asked if she would retire after her son was drafted. “She said no, she wanted to get her 30 years in,’’ Spielman said.

A year after quarterback play embarrassed and damaged the organization, the Vikings finally have a depth chart reflecting logic. Matt Cassel probably will start Game 1. Christian Ponder will serve as a backup. Bridgewater will study under Turner until he’s ready to start.

“He’s got time,’’ Spielman said. “We’re very comfortable with Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder. Teddy can sit there and develop.’’

A report from Fox’s Jay Glazer indicated that the Vikings tried to trade up to the 22nd pick in the first round to land Johnny Manziel. It’s obvious that after Jacksonville took Blake Bortles with the third pick, the Vikings spent the day maneuvering to take a potential franchise quarterback.

The result was two picks that require faith. Faith in Spielman, as a talent evaluator who has succeeded with high picks at most positions other than quarterback and cornerback. And faith in Zimmer and Turner as coaches with rare insights into player potential.

Spielman, too, is placing a great deal of faith in Turner. Spielman has spent two first-round draft picks on quarterbacks in four years. Ponder is a bust even if Spielman won’t admit it. Spielman traded for Josh Freeman.

Bridgewater’s future performance will seal Spielman’s reputation as an evaluator of the most important position in sports.

 

Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@ startribune.com

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