Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was impressive as a true freshman starter last season. So impressive that he set a school freshman passing record, and won Big East Freshman of the Year honors.
There was plenty to like about his game. His athleticism allowed him to make something out of nothing on several occasions. His poise helped calm a young team. His leadership took the Cardinals to a bowl game. The toughness he showed in that contest against NC State was perhaps the singular takeaway from that loss.
Now with Shawn Watson officially returning as offensive coordinator, everybody expects Bridgewater to continue his development and avoid the old cliched sophomore slump. There are a few areas he is focusing on now that spring practice has opened up.
Being a more decisive quarterback. Much of that comes with game experience, watching more film, and a comfort in the offense. He will have much more of that in Year 2 as a starter.
"You have to be a student of the game," Bridgewater said in a recent phone interview. "So I'm just focusing on being a more decisive and precise quarterback, learning the system more and learning the passing game, understanding it's about timing and spacing and building that chemistry. The hardest things last season was adjusting to the speed, and trusting yourself. A lot of young guys come in with a lack of confidence, so having that confidence right now is going to be a big help."
When he broke down film after the season ended, Bridgewater saw he had to be better at making pre-snap decisions.
Bulking up. It is not an understatement to say Bridgewater was scrawny when he arrived on campus at 6-3, 180 pounds. Coaches talked about the need for Bridgewater to put on some weight, and he did, getting all the way up to 208 when the season began. But he ended the season at 195, thanks to the toll of playing an entire year.
The plan now is for Bridgewater to gain 30 pounds and get up to 225 when the season begins. He already is up to 213, thanks to a new plan that involves lifting weights and eating the right foods, primarily proteins.
"I want to have that durability to take the hits I took in the bowl game," he said. "You don't want to take those hits, but you want to have your body prepared. I feel it also will build my arm strength and things like that will make me more explosive."
Growing up. One of the biggest points anybody makes about Louisville is watching a team go from underdog to favorite. The Cardinals did not handle the favorite's role too well last season, but now they are going to be one of the preseason favorites to win the Big East. How do young players like Bridgewater take the next step toward growth and maturity to be able to handle those increased expectations?
"We just have to stay focused and know what we're out to get," Bridgewater said. "We can't go around being satisfied because people are patting us on the back or people are giving us something already. Everyone wants to stay hungry and stay with the mentality we can get better. I just feel that we're more mature, and everyone understands what Coach (Charlie) Strong is trying to do around here. Everyone's on the same page, and we are a more mature team."