M&J Vikings Camp Preview: Matt Cassel or Teddy Bridgewater?
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The countdown is on as the Vikings prepare to report to training camp at Minnesota State on Thursday and then start practicing under new coach Mike Zimmer on Friday.
Each day this week at 10 a.m. on the "Mackey & Judd" show we are going to examine different topics involving the Vikings, ending with a prediction of the team's record and finish in the NFC North on Friday.
On Thursday, we weighed in on who should be the starting quarterback in Week 8.
There's no reason to reverse course at this point.
The Vikings hope they have their quarterback of the future in first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater, but the important word here is future.
Coming off a 5-10-1 season, their quarterback of the present, and short term, should be veteran Matt Cassel. That means Cassel should be starting in Week 1 at St. Louis and should remain in that role in Week 8 at Tampa Bay.
The thought process here is simple: The best case scenario for the Vikings will be to show patience with Bridgewater and allow him to learn Norv Turner's offense while Cassel holds the starting job.
Longtime NFL executive Bill Polian, who works for ESPN, did an outstanding analysis piece laying out the reasons why rookie quarterbacks should not start. That doesn't mean there haven't been some cases in which rookies did get the starting job and excelled but the Vikings have no reason to hurry Bridgewater.
What if Cassel struggles? What if Cassel gets hurts?
That shouldn't matter to coach Mike Zimmer or Turner when it comes to putting Bridgewater on the field.
The only thing that should matter in terms of Bridgewater moving into the No. 1 job is when the coaching staff is convinced he's ready to take over. That should have nothing to do with Cassel.
This is why it's my belief the Vikings should have parted ways with first-round bust Christian Ponder during the offseason and signed another veteran. If something happens to Cassel, the temptation could be to insert Bridgewater over Ponder.
And if Ponder is forced to take over for Cassel, while Bridgewater remains on the bench, fans are likely to revolt. It would have been easier for fans to stomach a no-name backup taking over if Cassel is lifted, thus buying time for Bridgewater.
But those are worst-case scenarios. The best case will be that Bridgewater is learning and Cassel is starting come Week 8.
I'm with Judd on this specific angle: Bridgewater should start if and only if he's ready. The Vikings should resist any temptation to insert Bridgewater in as the starter as a direct reaction to Cassel's struggles.
This is a nuanced topic, because there is no blue print for when young quarterbacks are "ready." There really is no true "ready" point. Development is a process.
I think the most important factor for throwing a rookie quarterback into the fire is determining whether he's confident enough to fail. Can he go through a three-game stretch where he throws nine interceptions, barely completes 50% of his throws and loses each game by double digits? Or will that wreck his confidence?
I tend to believe most successful quarterbacks are inherently confident. They derive their self-worth from within, rather than deriving it from external sources of validation. Yes, every young player needs positive reference points, but it takes an inherently confident person to shake off bad results early.
In the Polian piece Judd mentions above, the former Colts GM validates the confidence theory, explaining why Peyton Manning started from Day 1 of his rookie season despite Polian's preference to let rookies hold a clipboard.
"I would much rather sit a rookie QB and let him learn in Year 1," Polian wrote. "In Peyton's case, he was the best alternative, and we felt confident in the pieces we had around him, particularly on the offensive line. But even when we started him that season, we knew he wasn't going to be a finished product, that he'd be learning on the job. And when you're learning your job, you're not good at your job. We simply believed Peyton could deal with failure."
Surroundings are important to note as well. Over the past 30 years, among rookie QBs who started at least five games in their first season, the five best passer ratings were posted by Robert Griffin III, Marc Bulger, Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger and Dan Marino. RGIII was asked to complete mostly short passes in his rookie season, as opposed to Andrew Luck, who attempted 101 passes of 20+ yards in the air (the most in the NFL). Wilson and Roethlisberger were graced with fantastic defenses and running games, which meant they weren't required to carry as much of a load. Marino was a Hall of Fame talent.
Do the Vikings have a fantastic defense? No. Does Bridgewater have enough inherent confidence to handle failure at the beginning of his career? We really don't know yet. Only Rick Spielman, Mike Zimmer, Norv Turner and Bridgewater know.
So, to answer the original question - who will be the starting quarterback in Week 8? - I say Cassel. Only because I think Bridgewater's development is best served behind a clipboard early on.