While ESPN’s Ben Goessling is reporting that rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is entering training camp as a backup and Tom Pelissero of USA Today thinks Matt Cassel is going to be the starter to begin the season, there is still a lot of time left before the season.
The question is, can Bridgewater get past the decidedly mediocre Cassel before the season, or will it take a Ponder-like meltdown to eject the veteran in favor of the rookie?
The team wants to wait until sometime during camp to name a starter but they should come out the other side with one thing clear: Teddy Bridgewater is the best hope they have for a starting quarterback.
We know what Cassel is. A ten-year veteran who, save for one shining moment with the New England Patriots, has been mediocre at his best. Even when he played relatively well for the Vikings last season, he was prone to inaccuracy and often struggled to hit players on longer throws.
Meanwhile, Master Tesfatsion of the Star Tribune wrote that new offensive coordinator Norv Turner praised not only Bridgewater’s decision-making but his long-ball accuracy as well.
Now, there might be some hesitation to throw a young quarterback into the fray as last time out, it didn’t go so well.
Christian Ponder was tossed into the middle of a disaster of a season, one where the only weapon to throw to was Percy Harvin and where he lost Adrian Peterson to a massive knee injury.
That’s not to say Ponder was ever going to be more than he was or that he was as good in college as Bridgewater was. Just that his situation was much more difficult than the one which exists now.
While Harvin is gone, he has been replaced by a talented group of receivers, the core of which is Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson. On top of it, he has tight end Kyle Rudolph, who looks poised to have a breakout year for the Vikings.
He’ll also have a healthy Adrian Peterson toting the rock for him and keeping the defense from sitting back deep and just playing the pass. While it didn’t help Ponder, he was a far more limited quarterback.
Not only are there ample weapons in the offense, but a rock solid offensive line to protect the rookie.
At Louisville, Bridgewater proved himself to be a smart, decisive quarterback who thrived under pressure and was even better without it.
The team expects left tackle Matt Kalil to return to form after having to deal with knee issues in 2013. Aside from Kalil and Charlie Johnson, the offensive line played fairly well. If they can give Bridgewater the time to throw, he’ll find his receivers with much more accuracy than either Ponder or Cassel can muster.
On top of everything in the offense, the team also has what could prove to be a tremendous defense.
When he was with the Cincinnati Bengals, head coach Mike Zimmer worked miracles with a defense which was often greater than the sum of its parts. While the Vikings defense is still a work in progress, it has much better pieces than many fans outside of Minnesota give it credit for.
Adding Captain Munnerlyn to a secondary which already has young up and comers like second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Harrison Smith should help lock down the top shelf opposing wide receivers they’ll see every week in the NFC.
The front seven is also going to be rock solid, adding rookie Anthony Barr to a group with Everson Griffin and Jasper Brinkley will keep opposing quarterbacks from getting too comfortable.
All of which will help keep games from getting out of control, and avoid putting Bridgewater in the position of having to pull rabbits out of his hat on a weekly basis.
That said, Bridgewater also proved he was able to lead his team when things weren’t going well, such as when he came off the bench against Rutgers in 2012. Despite being hurt with injuries to both his wrist and ankle, and with the team down 11 points, Bridgewater went 20-of-28 for 263 yards, two touchdowns and an interception and led his team to a win.
Not only was it a win, but a victory which propelled his team into their first Sugar Bowl.
Pressure? Bridgewater has proven he can handle it.
There’s no reason to wait for someone else to melt down before putting Bridgewater in. He’s their best option right now.