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Updated: June 18th, 2014 5:03pm
Zulgad: Bridgewater expresses confidence without coming off as cocky

Zulgad: Bridgewater expresses confidence without coming off as cocky

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Attempting to make any on-the-field judgments about Teddy Bridgewater after two minicamp practices not only would be extremely premature, it would qualify as downright silly.

But there is one thing you can say with complete confidence about the last pick of the first round in this year's draft. He is not going to struggle when it comes to handling the off-the-field issues that go with being a quarterback in the NFL.

As far as the Vikings' brass should be concerned, Bridgewater did not fumble one question as he spoke to a group of reporters on Wednesday at Winter Park after the team wrapped up the second day of its three-day camp.

Bridgewater praised the coaching staff, as well as fellow quarterbacks Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder. He talked about how much he was learning from Cassel and Ponder and attempted to express confidence without being cocky.

Heck, Bridgewater wouldn't even say he was thinking about the arrival of training camp late next month in Mankato, going with the old "one day at a time" mantra.

Bridgewater is the anti-Johnny Manziel. He won't be nearly as brash or as much fun to cover, but he comes off as a student of the game who keeps his focus on the field and not off of it.

"It's amazing that I've been able to learn so much in the six weeks that I've been here, and I've just been gaining that confidence every day," Bridgewater said. "I'm just feeling very comfortable right now and knowing that I still have room for improvement and a long way to go to be where I want to be."

If you're Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, coach Mike Zimmer or offensive coordinator Norv Turner this type of quote is music to your ears because it indicates the young man gets it. Of course, we learned three years ago that just because a young QB seems to get it that is no guarantee of success.

Ponder arrived at Winter Park as the 12th pick of the 2011 draft and provided all the right answers. Three years later, it's likely he will never start another game for the Vikings and could be elsewhere when the regular season begins.

The Vikings are banking on the fact that Bridgewater, when he does get his chance, is going to be a far more polished product and that he will be able to hold down the starting role for the long term.

"Teddy's so great to be around, it's easy," Turner said. "As Coach Zimmer said, he knows how to work. He's very instinctive. ... He's a very natural player."

While Zimmer has attempted to sell the Vikings' quarterback situation as a three-man competition, we all know that's not the truth. Ponder has no chance of winning the spot.

The assumption, and suggestion, from this corner has been that Cassel should start the season and Bridgewater should be a spectator. But there is a chance that won't be the case. Zimmer and Turner could be waiting to see what Bridgewater can do in training camp, and the preseason, and then could make the call.

That is what the Seattle Seahawks did in 2012, when third-round pick Russell Wilson beat out free-agent Matt Flynn. This happened despite the fact that Flynn had signed a three-year, $26 million contract with the Seahawks that March. The deal included $10 million in guarantees. It wasn't a cheap decision to have Flynn on the sideline but it was the right call.

Cassel was brought back by the Vikings in March for $10 million over two years, making him a bridge quarterback and not a high-priced acquisition.

"Right now, my mindset is that I'm competing," Bridgewater said. "I feel that competition makes the team better. If all the guys at the quarterback position are competing it's just going to make the entire position much better."

Bridgewater got plenty of work in the opening two days of minicamp. According to stats kept by Andrew Krammer of 1500 ESPN, Bridgewater completed 13 of 15 passes on Tuesday and 15 of 17 on Wednesday in 11-on-11 team drills. Cassel was a combined 12 of 22 over the two days and Ponder was 6 of 8.

Although Bridgewater did not throw any deep passes on Wednesday, Turner said the quarterback has done a good job of getting the ball down the field. There were some concerns about this issue as Bridgewater dropped to the end of the first round in May after being projected as the possible top pick overall last summer.

"I knew he'd be accurate and make great decisions, but he has been outstanding throwing the ball deep, which some people thought was going to be an issue," Turner said. "I think in the six-to-eight weeks we've had him on the field, he's been put in a position to throw most of the throws he would have to make, and I think he's made most of those throws he'd have to make."

Said Bridgewater: "It's been all footwork. I've been able to watch Matt, watch Chrisitan and have seen how those guys have had great success throwing the deep ball and try to apply some of the things that they are doing to my game also."

Bridgewater strikes you as a 24-7 football guy. He spent a good portion of Wednesday talking about his desire to get reps in any way, shape or form. That can mean spending time reading his playbook or even by playing the Madden video game.

"Whenever I'm not in I'm trying to take mental reps and also visual reps when either Matt or Christian are taking their reps," said Bridgewater, who threw for 3,970 yards and 31 touchdowns with only four interceptions last season at Louisville. " ... It helps because you get one more rep than you had in the actual practice. Any chance you get to take an extra rep or go the extra step, the extra mile, it's going to be very beneficial when I transfer it to the field."

The coaching staff is attempting to challenge Bridgewater, and the rest of the quarterbacks, by giving them multiple plays to take to the line of scrimmage and going no-huddle. This is especially interesting for a rookie to process because it means he must make quick decisions without hesitation.

Bridgewater, though, doesn't seem fazed by the amount of things he has had to process and admits coming across as a guy who is cool, calm and collected, and having a good time, is no accident.

"You've got to have fun. You can't just be so serious all the time," he said. "You have to relax but also stay within your character. ... When guys are competing at a high level you have to have fun and if guys aren't having a great day you still have to have fun. Playing the quarterback position, I feel this is the one position where you always have to just remain poised and always have fun to let the guys know that, 'Hey, my quarterback is fine, so maybe I'll be all right.'"

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
In this story: Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder
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