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Updated: August 19th, 2014 4:29pm
Zulgad: Vikings' talk of keeping three QBs is most likely lip service

Zulgad: Vikings' talk of keeping three QBs is most likely lip service

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Eleven years of covering the NFL has provided some valuable lessons.

The most important one might be this: Go with your gut, even if the people in charge try to convince you otherwise.

That's why one should put little stock in the fact that coach Mike Zimmer gave no indication Tuesday the Vikings will go with only two quarterbacks this season and offensive coordinator Norv Turner added, "Having three quarterbacks, if that's the way we end up going, it's extremely valuable to me."

This means the Vikings want you to believe that Matt Cassel, first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater and Christian Ponder are all going to wind up on the 53-man roster.

Common sense, however, says that only Cassel and Bridgewater will be with the team on opening day, something that Zimmer, Turner and general manager Rick Spielman would never admit before final cuts are completed and one last attempt to deal Ponder for a late-round draft pick is made.

Tom Pelissero, my former colleague at this website and now a standout NFL columnist for USA Today, discussed this subject with Phil Mackey and me on Tuesday on 1500 ESPN.

Pelissero thinks the Vikings will keep three quarterbacks, pointing to the fact that Turner's offense in Cleveland used all three QBs in the first three weeks of last season. Pelissero also theorized that if Cassel was to be injured in the regular-season opener on Sept. 7 in St. Louis, the Vikings wouldn't want to be faced with inserting Bridgewater into a game so quickly.

A month or so ago, I was on board with this line of thinking. In fact, in mid-July, I floated the notion that the Vikings would be wise to start the season with Cassel under center, have Ponder as his backup and designate Bridgewater as their No. 3 quarterback.

But after attending training camp practices and preseason games my thinking has changed. Or, should I say, my opinion of what the Vikings are going to do has changed.

It's not that Bridgewater has been great. Yes, he was fantastic in the fourth quarter on Saturday, leading the Vikings to a late victory over Arizona, but he was shaky in the preseason opener against Oakland and there have been plenty of rough moments in practice.

So why go away from my initial opinion?

There are a few reasons.

First of all, this is a new offense for Cassel, Bridgewater and Ponder. Yet, Ponder has been given almost zero chance to take a test drive in it. Putting Ponder into a regular-season game would not only result in embarrassment for the quarterback, it would be setting up Turner to embarrass himself as well.

That just isn't going to happen.

Not only hasn't Ponder gotten many reps in practices - and we're not talking first-team reps, we're talking reps with anyone - he didn't even take one snap in the second preseason game.

If you think it would be difficult for Bridgewater to come in for Cassel in St. Louis, imagine what it would be like for Ponder.

The Vikings' first-round pick in 2011 often has had a deer in the headlights look when he's been asked to run an offense that he knows, but now he's going to be asked to run a completely different scheme with no prep?

Part of the faith we have in Zimmer and Turner is the fact they are professionals at what they do. Playing Ponder in a game with meaning would be a very unprofessional move. They won't do it.

As for the point that Turner used three quarterbacks in three games with Cleveland, let's take a closer look at that situation.

The Browns, one of the worst-run franchises in the league, opened last season with Brandon Weeden at quarterback, before having to turn to journeyman Jason Campbell and then Brian Hoyer. There is one big difference with these three when compared to Bridgewater.

None of them could be considered Turner's students. Weeden already was in Cleveland when Turner arrived, while Campbell (a free agent) and Hoyer (a free agent) were added to the roster after Turner was hired in January 2013. But Campbell and Hoyer were the equivalent of rummage sale pickups by the Browns.

The Vikings traded back into the first round of the draft to take Bridgewater with the final pick last May largely because Turner had done enough offseason work with him that he was convinced Bridgewater had a good future ahead of him.

Turner has earned praise from many for his abilities as an offensive coordinator, meaning he doesn't lack confidence in his ability to develop a quarterback like Bridgewater. This will be enough to convince Turner that, worst case, Bridgewater won't fall completely on his face.

Best case is that Bridgewater doesn't have to take a snap this season because Cassel is that good.

If Cassel were to get hurt early in the season and Bridgewater struggled, the Vikings could sign a quarterback off the street, or trade for one, who has experience in Turner's system. Let's be honest, if the Vikings have to go with Ponder or Joe Blow as their quarterback they are cooked.

This is why if Zimmer thinks he can use the 53rd-roster spot on an up-and-coming player that he doesn't want to expose to waivers - and that's likely to happen - Ponder is almost certainly gone.

Spielman is the one who is probably going to have the biggest problem with this, considering Ponder is his draft pick, but he almost certainly won't overrule Zimmer and Turner if they decide going with two quarterbacks is the wise move.

As for money, the Vikings will have to pay Ponder a modest $1.8 million if they cut him, but if he gets picked up by another team that club's investment in Ponder would offset some or all of the Vikings' responsibility, according to ESPN's Ben Goessling.

More likely, the Vikings' attempt at lip service on Tuesday was probably done because the team will go with a vanilla offense in its fourth preseason game, play Ponder as much as possible and cross its fingers he plays well enough to get another team interested in him.

But even if that doesn't happen, no matter what Zimmer and Turner says, the best bet is Cassel and Bridgewater will be the Vikings' only two quarterbacks on opening day.

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
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