Zulgad: Bridgewater's debut serves as proof that patience is needed
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Teddy Bridgewater's first appearance in an NFL game occurred in the first quarter Friday night with many fans in the announced crowd of 51,752 at TCF Bank Stadium chanting the first name of the Vikings' first-round pick.
By the time Bridgewater departed in the third quarter after five series, the enthusiasm for the rookie quarterback's debut had died down. It should have been replaced with a simple realization: This is going to be a process.
Bridgewater called it a "dream come true" to take his first professional snap. He also has to know that now that that dream has been fulfilled there is a lot of work left to be done before he can take a snap in a game that means something.
There is nothing wrong with this. There also is nothing wrong with the fact that you can say with complete confidence that barring injury Matt Cassel will start the regular-season opener on Sept. 7 in St. Louis.
Bridgewater replaced Cassel on Friday after the veteran led the Vikings on a touchdown drive on the opening series of their 10-6 victory over the Oakland Raiders. Bridgewater had one drive with the first-team offense, it ended with a 30-yard field goal from Blair Walsh, and four more with the backups.
"I feel like it went pretty good," Bridgewater said. "There were some missed opportunities, but I'll be able to come back next week and play more aggressive. Just watch the film and just continue to study and get better from here."
On his first play, Bridgewater rolled right and completed a 21-yard pass to Greg Jennings that moved the ball to the Raiders 33-yard line. The completion was negated by an illegal formation penalty and Bridgewater's next pass bounced off the turf after he had avoided a pass rush.
Bridgewater would throw only one more pass in the series - a 13-yard completion to Cordarelle Patterson to the Oakland 11 - as third-round running back Jerick McKinnon upstaged Bridgewater by carrying the ball six times for 36 yards.
If Bridgewater does play this season, his first drive as a Viking will serve as the blue print for what we can expect. The only difference is that instead of McKinnon getting the bulk of the carries it will be Adrian Peterson, who is unlikely to see the field in the preseason.
Bridgewater showed a few things on Friday.
He is poised enough, and has the football savvy, that he doesn't appear to be prone to making the big mistake that so often proved to be the undoing of Tarvaris Jackson and Christian Ponder. Both of those quarterbacks, for all their faults, weren't brought along in a manner that ever gave them a real chance to be successful.
But anyone who thinks Bridgewater should open the season as the Vikings quarterback saw that putting him in that spot would be a massive blunder by offensive coordinator Norv Turner and coach Mike Zimmer.
Would this doom Bridgewater to the same failure experienced by Jackson and Ponder? No one can answer that question and, in fairness, the hope has to be Bridgewater is far more talented than either Jackson or Ponder.
One would assume that this time around the Vikings would like to give their quarterback of the future every chance to be a success and not set him up for failure because of some misguided hope that he will be better sooner rather than later.
Bridgewater completed six of 13 passes for 49 yards Friday - including three of eight for 24 yards in the first half -- and showed an ability to move around the pocket. What also was on display was the fact that even with the Raiders playing the type of vanilla defense that teams show in the exhibition season, Bridgewater is in the beginning stages of the learning process.
"There was a couple times in the game when he just didn't act like a veteran," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "Things happened he hadn't seen before. Those are all great experiences for him. He made some great throws and had a couple mishaps. I think Teddy is going to be a great player."
One of the key adjustments Bridgewater must make is to the speed of the game. It's one thing to be a star quarterback at Louisville and pick apart the American Athletic Conference. It's another to experience the same success in the NFL, where the speed of the game is so much quicker.
Eventually, Bridgewater will make the adjustment and will be able to process things and get the ball out in a split second. Friday provided a valuable lesson for Bridgewater, and Vikings fans, that that is going to take time.
"I would say so," Bridgewater said when asked if speed was the biggest difference. "Like I said earlier in the week, an opening in the National Football League isn't open how it was in college. Guys aren't going to be wide open in the National Football League because guys are playing pretty tight coverage and everything is happening faster. That's been the biggest transition so far."
Bridgewater is going to get plenty of help. Turner, the veteran offensive coordinator, calls plays from the press box but his son, Scott, serves as quarterbacks coach and was one of the first voices Bridgewater heard whenever he came off the field.
Cassel might have only been in for 10 plays, but he spent much of his night attempting to serve as a mentor to Bridgewater.
"That's part of this whole deal is being a team and talk to him (about), 'What are you seeing?'" Cassel said. "Also, maybe giving him some advice. We all talk amongst ourselves and amongst the group. I thought he did a great job tonight of going through his reads and making some great plays."
Cassel took the proper approach in his public comments in assessing Bridgewater's first game. Privately, though, the Vikings know that if they bring Bridgewater along in a wise and patient manner there will be far better performances to come.