While the number of snaps each quarterback gets suggests otherwise, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer insisted Tuesday that the competition to be his starting quarterback remains a three-player position battle without a clear favorite as those steamy summer days in Mankato loom.
“I want to give everybody an opportunity and make sure it’s a legitimate opportunity for all of them and start narrowing down the reps as we get going,” Zimmer said, five weeks before training camp. “But it won’t be for a while.”
Zimmer feels no urgency to choose a quarterback among veterans Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder and rookie Teddy Bridgewater, even with his first offseason program as head coach coming to a close with this week’s three-day minicamp. Sure, it would be beneficial for one quarterback to settle in with the starting offense sooner than later. But Zimmer says picking the right man for the job is paramount, and his mind isn’t close to being made up here in June, three months before the regular-season starts.
“The thing I want to guard against most is rushing into a decision where we make a decision quickly as opposed to making the correct decision,” Zimmer said. “Our main focus now is making the correct decision not so much for the fans or the media or anybody else on this football team and that’s really in regards to all of the positions, not just the quarterback position.”
Zimmer declared that the competition remained open before the footballs started flying at Tuesday’s afternoon practice. But as was the case in other offseason workouts open to the media, it was Cassel and Bridgewater who did most of the throwing while Ponder palmed his helmet off to the side.
Ponder attempted only four passes, all completions, during team drills. Cassel and Bridgewater split the bulk of the snaps with Cassel getting the majority of them with the first team, as has been the case throughout the spring.
“You got to take advantage of every snap you get,” said Cassel, the lone quarterback the team made available to reporters in a group setting. “I think it’s so important this time of year to get the repetitions, especially in a new system. We’ve been out here, and we’re working hard like I’m sure everyone is. I’m just thankful to be getting the reps this time of year.”
Still, Zimmer rejected the notion that Cassel is the favorite to win the starting job right now.
“I’ve never said that,” he said. “I know I’ve heard other people say it but I’ve never said it. From the day I walked in here, I said I want tough, passionate, smart football players and I want competition at every position. To me we are still competing. Everybody is competing for jobs.”
Consider that a message sent to the entire 90-man roster, that if the game’s most important position is up for grabs, so are many other roles.
Overall, it was a sharp day collectively for the quarterbacks at the mandatory minicamp, in which the Vikings boasted perfect attendance. They were in sync with their receivers, only a couple of passes hit the grass during team drills and none wound up in the hands of defenders.
Cassel completed every pass during team drills. Bridgewater, meanwhile, made a couple of strong throws downfield, and the first-round pick already has been given some leeway to change or flip plays at the line of scrimmage.
But despite the competition between them, Cassel said they can’t concern themselves with it.
“We’ve got enough going on in my mind and probably everyone else’s mind just trying to figure out what to do on each and every play,” said Cassel, who signed a two-year, $10 million contact in March. “I think that’s where our concentration lies, and if it’s on anything else then it’s foolish.”
Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner have begun discussing how to divvy up the snaps during training camp, which kicks off July 25. The plan is to eventually give more and more first-team reps to the leading candidate until Zimmer anoints a starter. Whenever that may be.
“Eventually we will. There’s still a lot of time. We’ve got 20-some practices before the first game and 20 walk-throughs or something. We’ve got time,” Zimmer said. “Everybody wants to rush into things but it’s more important that we make the right decision and when we do then we’ll go with it and hope it’s the right call.”