The three quarterbacks selected in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft – Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater -- will all open the season on their respective teams’ benches.
Chad Henne has been named the starting quarterback for the Jaguars. Brian Hoyer has been named the starting quarterback for the Browns. And Matt Cassel has been named the starting quarterback for the Vikings.
In a not-so-subtle effort to rile up some fan bases and stir up controversy, ESPN seized this opportunity to run a graphic on SportsCenter Tuesday morning showing the other quarterbacks selected in the first round of the NFL Draft since 2006 who did NOT start their first games as a professional. I double-checked their list just to make sure, and the players are as follows:
Of the 10 quarterbacks on the list, only two are still starting now (Cutler and Locker). Six are out of the league now (including Brady Quinn, who was released by the Dolphins yesterday). The other two are Gabbert and Ponder. Enough said, right? Time to leap to conclusions.
The implication of course is that nowadays, if a first-round quarterback doesn’t get the start from Game 1 of his career, it doesn’t bode well for his future. That may be true of recent history, but deductions based on small sample sizes and varied individual circumstances is bad science. In fact it’s not science.
Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Cam Newton all started their first games in the NFL. Are we to assume then that Bortles, Manziel and Bridgewater have no chance of being as good as any of these guys?
The comeback of course is that Brandon Weeden and Mark Sanchez both started their first games in the NFL, too. So there’s that.
I’m relatively certain that Jaguars, Browns and Vikings fans are glad their teams’ rookie quarterbacks aren’t being lumped onto the same list as those guys. Indeed I’m 100 percent sure Vikings fans are hoping Bridgewater’s career arc bears no similarities to those of Weeden or Sanchez.
As you might suspect (reading the bold print between the lines) my opinion of Bridgewater did not change when head coach Mike Zimmer named Cassel the starter on Monday. I figured from the beginning this was Cassel’s gig to lose, and to his credit he didn’t do so.
Coach Zimmer insisted Monday that Teddy really didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just, neither did Cassel.
“I’ve loved everything [Bridgewater has] done and it wasn’t anything that Teddy did or didn’t do but Teddy will be still, in my estimation, a great player for this franchise for years to come,” Zimmer said.
It is worth noting Bridgewater didn’t start his first three games at Louisville, either. Not starting from Game 1 in college frustrated him to the point of nearly quitting and transferring to a school closer to home. The reasoning: he would be able to start at a smaller school and he could better care for his mom, Rose, as she battled breast cancer. I detailed this trying time in Bridgewater’s life in my profile on him for the Official 2014 Minnesota Vikings Team Yearbook (available online and at the stadium).
Here’s an excerpt from that feature:
“My college plan wasn’t going the way that I wanted it to go, but that’s where the saying ‘delayed, never denied’ came into play… I wasn’t starting at first. I was telling my coaches, ‘I think I just want to go home, take care of my mom and get my education closer to home,’” Bridgewater told me.
He was close to walking away after just two games at Louisville, close to going home to help his mom. Close to changing all his plans. But he had a talk with the Cardinals team chaplain and decided to stick it out. His mom had taught him that mantra: “Blessings are never denied but they may be delayed.” It’s a saying you’ll still find on his Twitter page (@teddyb_h2o). Go back to May 8: “Delayed but never denied,” he tweeted shortly after the Vikings drafted him.
“It’s amazing how God works,” Bridgewater recalls. “Going into the week that we played Kentucky I had a great feeling that I was going to play and it just so happened our starting quarterback [Will Stein] was injured. I came in the game, I threw two touchdowns and we won the game.”
Bridgewater would go on to start against Marshall the following week and remained the starter for the rest of his career at Louisville.
You see, Bridgewater has been in this type of position before. I trust he learned from the Louisville experience that he shouldn’t get overly frustrated. He might be the one holding the clipboard and sipping Gatorade on the sideline in St. Louis a few weeks from now. But his time will come.
His number will be called.
It’s up to him to be prepared once it is, and on that front I’m convinced he will be.
We all saw it in the first three preseason games: Teddy passes the eye test. He looks like he belongs. He displays poise, flashes playmaking ability and puts points on the board.
He’ll be studying the entire time he’s forced to watch, taking mental reps with each snap of the ball Cassel takes.
One of the many things that stood out to me about Bridgewater from the time I sat down and interviewed him for the Yearbook piece back in June was his thirst for learning. He’s an absolute sponge.
He watches Cassel and Ponder closely.
“Just the way the guys approach each day has stood out to me,” Bridgewater told me. “I’ve just been able to learn from guys from a mental standpoint – seeing how guys prepare for practice, how Matt and Christian warm up, how they prepare themselves before they go in for their reps.”
Even when I switched gears in the conversation and asked Bridgewater about playing on the same team as Adrian Peterson, it didn’t take him long to go back to talking about studying and observing.
“It’s a great feeling knowing that you have the best running back in the National Football League behind you,” Teddy started, as most people would when asked about Peterson.
He then immediately added: “I’m just interested in learning from him also – from what motivates him, what gets him going, what drives him… For me it’s about the mental approach to the game. Because he’s had such success, I want to know what’s contributed to his success – his eating habits, his mental approach, his study habits, the way he trains his body in the weight room. I can’t wait to continue to learn from him.”
I walked away from that conversation awfully impressed with Bridgewater’s maturity, thoughtfulness, intelligence and eagerness to soak up all that he could.
Nothing is guaranteed, but if I were a betting man I’d say he has a much better chance of being the next Jay Cutler than the next Matt Leinart or JaMarcus Russell from that aforementioned list. He has the physical tools and you can bet he’s honing the mental tools as well.
No, he’s not starting in Week 1; but when he gets his chance, Teddy will be ready.
Head on over to VikingsJournal.com to join in on the discussion of Matt Cassel being named the starting quarterback and a look at whether Christian Ponder would be a good trade fit for the Rams.
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData, head writer at VikingsJournal.com, co-host of the Fantasy Football Pants Party at 1500ESPN.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell