Updated: May 9th, 2014 8:18pm
Zulgad: Vikings should find backup QB so they don't rush Bridgewater

Zulgad: Vikings should find backup QB so they don't rush Bridgewater

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by Judd Zulgad

How much did the Vikings learn from the Christian Ponder debacle?

That is a fair question considering that three years after taking the quarterback with the 12th pick in the NFL draft, the Vikings again used a first-round selection on a QB of the future Thursday night.

Teddy Bridgewater wasn't taken as early as Ponder - the Vikings traded with Seattle and grabbed Bridgewater with the final pick of the first round at No. 32 -- but that doesn't mean expectations will be lessened.

It's up to the Vikings to manage those expectations and make sure mistakes made in Ponder's development don't happen again.

Let's make one thing clear before we proceed. The above sentence is not meant to indicate that if Ponder had been handled differently his time in purple would have been vastly different.

Many of us were taken aback when ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, a Super Bowl winning quarterback with marginal talent, came out and ripped apart the Ponder pick three years ago. Dilfer was proven to be correct and the only scoffing being done now is over the fact that Ponder was taken that early in the draft.

Ponder is a smart guy. He's a good guy without a huge ego. And he's also a bust.

But to lay every bit of blame for this at Ponder's feet is to miss what one would hope served as a learning experience for general manager Rick Spielman and other team executives.

The fact that Bridgewater will have the advantage of working with longtime offensive coordinator Norv Turner should be a huge plus. Bill Musgrave might have been a fine quarterbacks coach for Matt Ryan in Atlanta, but Muskie was overmatched as a coordinator from the day he entered Winter Park.

The most important thing the Vikings can do for Bridgewater is exercise great patience. Everyone from Spielman on down must be on board with this approach.

It doesn't matter if starter Matt Cassel struggles to start the season, or even if he is injured, Bridgewater's playing time in 2014 should in no way be tied to the veteran.

The Vikings opened the 2011 season with Leslie Frazier, in his first full season as coach, handing the starting job to Donovan McNabb. Frazier wanted a veteran starter, and felt Ponder could develop playing behind McNabb.

This was great in theory but the Vikings made a massive mistake by believing McNabb had anything left as an NFL quarterback. McNabb arrived in Mankato that summer talking about his desire to hit the local restaurants. It soon became apparent that McNabb was far more concerned with dining options than he was being good on the football field.

After starting the season 1-4, the Vikings were getting blown out in Chicago on a Sunday night when the decision was made to pull McNabb and insert Ponder. In the short term this satisfied the fan base, but it was a misguided decision.

There was no reason in the midst of a 3-13 season to hand the starting job to the rookie, unless the coaching staff really felt he was ready to take over. It was pretty clear that wasn't the case and Ponder's first NFL season finished with him throwing an equal number of interceptions and touchdowns (13-13).

The Vikings should have had a Plan B (read: a journeyman QB) to McNabb and Ponder should have been given time to develop at his own rate.

The same should be true for Bridgewater.

Here's another thought. The Plan B to Cassel should not be Ponder. That's no longer fair to anybody, including Ponder.

If Cassel struggles or is injured, the immediate cry will be to play Bridgewater and forget about Ponder. Teams can say that the fans and media don't impact their thinking at all, but that is a lie. No one with the Vikings is going to enjoy the potentially toxic environment this fall at TCF Bank Stadium, if Cassel has to come out of a game and Ponder trots on the field, while Bridgewater holds a clipboard.

The Vikings would be wise to trade or cut Ponder - he is due only $1.8 million this season, so the move would be easy - and sign a veteran cheap to be the No. 2 QB. It should be made clear that the second quarterback is the primary backup to Cassel and that Bridgewater will not be rushed.

If all goes according to plan, Bridgewater can then be given the opportunity to take over as the starter in 2015, or when Turner believes he's ready to play.

This won't assure immediate or long-term success for Bridgewater, but it would be a positive step in giving him every chance to succeed.

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.
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