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Updated: August 26th, 2014 6:10pm
Zulgad's 3-and-out: Bridgewater sitting latest example of NFL sanity

Zulgad's 3-and-out: Bridgewater sitting latest example of NFL sanity

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Could sanity have come to the NFL?

The quarterback position might be the most difficult to play in all of sports, yet it seems every season some teams convince themselves that a rookie can handle a spot that not only takes a high level of skill to play but also demands leadership that few young players are prepared to provide.

It appears that that "we have to play him now" mentality might be changing.

Yahoo! Sports reports that for the first time in seven years it appears as if no first-year players will start at quarterback when the NFL season kicks off next month.

The list of first-round picks who weren't awarded starting jobs includes the Vikings' Teddy Bridgewater (32nd pick), Jacksonville's Blake Bortles (third pick) and Cleveland's Johnny Manziel (22nd pick).

Bridgewater was the last of these three to be officially told he would not be starting, but it was clear to anyone who watched the Vikings this summer that Matt Cassel never came close to losing the top job.

This doesn't mean that Bridgewater, Bortels or Manziel won't start at some point this season - and it doesn't mean that every rookie quarterback is incapable of starting -- but it's a step in the right direction for attempting to dial down the pressure on these prized players.

For many of them to reach their potential, awarding them the starting job is the biggest mistake a franchise can make.

Here is the list from Yahoo of the rookie quarterbacks who opened the season as the starter since 2008:


2008: Matt Ryan (Atlanta), Joe Flacco (Baltimore)
2009: Matthew Stafford (Detroit), Mark Sanchez (New York Jets)
2010: Sam Bradford (St. Louis)
2011: Cam Newton (Carolina), Andy Dalton (Cincinnati)
2012: Andrew Luck (Indianapolis), Robert Griffin III (Washington), Ryan Tannehill (Miami), Brandon Weeden (Cleveland), Russell Wilson (Seattle)
2013: E.J. Manuel (Buffalo), Geno Smith (Jets)

If you're wondering, Christian Ponder did not start until the seventh game of the 2011 season, after being the 12th pick in the first round of that year's draft.

Reading between the lines

Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders has been very careful to not say a disparaging word about Kevin Love since he officially traded the forward to Cleveland on Saturday.

But there have been a few quotes where if you read between the lines it isn't too hard to figure out that Saunders is talking up one of his new acquisitions by pointing out they do something better than Love.

One example: When asked Saturday about obtaining Thaddeus Young, who will be Love's immediate replacement at power forward, Saunders talked about what Young will bring to the team on and off the court.

"As you will all find out, he's a super character individual," Saunders said. "He will add as much to our locker room with his presence, his leadership as he will with his athletic ability."

Yes, this is praise for Young, a 26-year-old who spent his first seven years with the Philadelphia 76ers, but it's also an obvious nod to the fact that Love was lacking when it came to an ability to show leadership.

"For me to step into a leadership role it's going to be great," said Young, who appeared along with fellow newcomers Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Zach LaVine at the Minnesota State Fair on Tuesday. "I think I'll be perfect to help these guys."

Love isn't the only guy who is happy to get out of a situation he viewed as less than ideal. While Love spent six seasons in Minnesota without making a playoff appearance, Young must think he's found stability at Target Center.

He was on a 76ers team that is in a rebuilding mode and has embraced being as bad as possible for the time being. Philadelphia has won 34 and 19 games, respectively, in the past two years.

Young, who averaged a career-high 17.9 points, with six rebounds and 2.1 steals last season, said that Saunders will be his sixth coach in eight NBA seasons.

Optimism rankings

The Wolves could be in for a terrible season in 2014-15, but you wouldn't have known it by looking at the large crowd that gathered at the State Fair to see the team's new additions introduced.

For the first time in a long time it seems as if there is actual enthusiasm, instead of apathy, when it comes to the Wolves.

For that reason, my radio partner, Phil Mackey, and I both agreed during our show Tuesday (9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on 1500 ESPN, if you aren't familiar), that the Wolves have, for the time being, leapfrogged the Twins when it comes to ranking our optimism for the direction in which the Twins, Vikings, Wild and Wolves are headed.

The rankings went like this:

1) Wild: There are questions about goaltending, but after winning a first-round playoff series against Colorado last spring, there is plenty of reason to think that the Wild will remain a team on the rise in 2014-15.

It would have been nice to see the addition of a big defenseman in free agency, Willie Mitchell was the target before he signed with Florida, but the Wild did sign Thomas Vanek to provide some much-needed help in the goal-scoring department.

The Wild appears to be deep at the forward position, and when you have Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin on the blue line, you can't complain too much about the defense.

2) Vikings: The reason for optimism here is twofold.

One, new coach Mike Zimmer appears to know what he's doing, starting with how he handled the Cassel/Bridgewater "competition" at quarterback.

Secondly, the NFL is a league where every season a couple of teams drop off from their previous year's performance and a couple make big leaps. The NFL calls this parity, but it's actually mediocrity of the entire product.

This doesn't matter to fans.

What does matter is that if Zimmer can find a way to turn around a defense that was abysmal last season, the Vikings' offense is good enough to win games. I'm putting the Vikings on an 8-8 finish, but there is a chance they could surprise.

3) Timberwolves: More than once, I doubted that Saunders could pull off a trade for Love that would get a return that would lead to excitement.

Saunders, though, appears to have proven me wrong by making a three-team trade with the Cavaliers and 76ers that gives the Wolves an identity and, for the first time in forever, points to the fact that there is an actual plan in place at Target Center.

We have no idea if Wiggins, Bennett and Young are going to work out, but the nucleus of this team should give basketball fans a reason to begin making regular appearances in downtown Minneapolis next season.

If nothing else, it could be fun to watch a team that will look to point guard Ricky Rubio for leadership and won't have to worry about Love's mood that day.

4) Twins: The Wolves occupied this position for a long stretch and there is still a chance they will be back here, given some of the prospects the Twins already have in the big leagues (Kennys Vargas, Oswaldo Arcia, Danny Santana) and the players (Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Alex Meyer) who should be on the way.

But it dampens the enthusiasm when Buxton wasn't able to stay healthy for much of the season and Sano missed the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery during spring training.

Ideally, Sano would have been called up a few months ago and Buxton might have been nearing his Target Field debut. Buxton, though, has been shut down since suffering a concussion in a scary collision during his first game with Double-A New Britain this month.

Those injuries, not to mention a fourth consecutive losing season, have enabled the Wolves to catapult the Twins in these rankings.

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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