Teddy Bridgewater’s comfort with everything that comes with being an NFL starting quarterback was unmistakable Wednesday as the Vikings opened up their second organized team activity of the offseason to the media.
This time a year ago, Bridgewater was feeling his way around Winter Park, careful not to step on the toes of Matt Cassel, the veteran starter he sought to unseat.
On Wednesday, with a certain running back far, far away from Minnesota, Bridgewater seemed completely at ease as the leader of the offense.
One minute, he was barking instructions at the line of scrimmage before whipping passes to Mike Wallace or Charles Johnson. The next he was catching up with teammates, even pulling long snapper Cullen Loeffler in for a quick embrace during a water break.
“I’m a young guy still on the team, but guys are pushing me forward to say something in the huddle, or break the team down, or break the offense down,” the second-year quarterback said. “That just gives you that confidence in yourself, confidence in your leadership and I’ve been extremely comfortable doing that so far.”
The Vikings are pleased with what they have seen from Bridgewater now that they have him back in the building. At his core, he still is the same stoic young man who left Winter Park in January after an encouraging end to his rookie season. But the Vikings see subtle changes that suggest Bridgewater is poised to take another step forward this season.
In the days after his 2014 season ended, Bridgewater asked offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner what they wanted him to do in the offseason.
They didn’t want to micromanage, but the father-son duo made it clear they didn’t want him to work with a quarterbacks coach who would tweak the technique they had spent the previous eight months drilling into him.
Last spring, Bridgewater enlisted the help of former NFL quarterback Chris Weinke to navigate the pre-draft process. Weinke, now the QBs coach for the St. Louis Rams, was one of the more prominent names in a growing industry of individualized quarterback coaches.
You might have spotted George Whitfield at televised pro days, waving brooms at recent first-round picks Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel. Steve Clarkson has tutored quarterbacks such as Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Leinart and Cassel while also helping transform wealthy high-schoolers into blue-chip college prospects. Former MLB pitcher Tom House has gotten rave reviews from star passers such as Tom Brady and Drew Brees.
But the Turners believe that they know best when it comes to Bridgewater.
“I’m never going to say anything negative about anybody who creates a market for themselves,” Scott Turner said this winter. “I think quarterbacks need work, and if you’re showing a guy a new idea, I think it can help. I just think the only thing that worries me is that if you work with a guy who already has a set of coaches, you can be doing things that are counterproductive.”
Bridgewater understood. He worked some with a quarterbacks coach in Florida, Ken Mastrole, but the goal was to reinforce what the Turners had taught him, not deconstruct it.
“I know that sometimes you get with those passing coaches and they try and change your techniques,” Bridgewater said. “But they don’t know our system, so I just continue to do the things that are within our system and it’s been helping thus far.”
Bridgewater also stayed busy by watching cutups of 2014 tape beamed into his team-issued iPad by the coaching staff. And in March, he met with tight end Kyle Rudolph, running back Jerick McKinnon and a couple of other Vikings pass-catchers in California for workouts.
Praise from Zimmer
The Vikings also wanted Bridgewater to hit the gym and get bigger and stronger, ensuring that he can take hard hits and keep on ticking. They weren’t looking for him to radically change his body in one offseason. Instead, they are hoping that Bridgewater, who was listed at 6-2 and 210 pounds, gradually will bulk up over time.
It was hard to tell any difference in Bridgewater’s physique Wednesday because of the baggy long-sleeve T-shirt he wore under his red noncontact jersey, but coach Mike Zimmer was satisfied with all the work that Bridgewater put in this offseason.
“It’s hard to never not be pleased with Teddy because he’s such a hard worker,” he said. “We wanted him to get bigger and stronger; he looks a little bit bigger to me. He’s always worked real hard. The leadership things are starting to come better. I think he’s been doing a good job the two days we’ve been out here against the defense.”
Much work is left to be done between now and the start of the season. But the Vikings can see that their young quarterback is settled in and feels comfortable setting the tone.
“It’s a great feeling, for one, knowing that I have a year under my belt, but also, I have another year in this system,” Bridgewater said. “The guys, we all know what the expectation level is, so each day we come in to work. We have our hard hats on, and we come in ready to work hard.”