Friday, May 9, 2014
Handling pressure set Bridgewater apart
By Ben Goessling
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- If there was one thing that wore the sheen off the Minnesota Vikings' pick of Christian Ponder quicker than any other, it was how the quarterback reacted when he was under pressure. It was there -- when Ponder would fixate on a pass rush, either pulling the ball down to run after his first read or forcing a throw -- where his appeal as an intelligent, engaging young quarterback dissipated, and it was there that the Vikings most needed to make sure their next young passer could be better.
So they commissioned a deep analytical study of the quarterbacks in the 2014 draft class -- true to Rick Spielman's style as a general manager -- and as they measured how this crop of passers handled pressure, they kept coming back to one name: Teddy Bridgewater.
Teddy Bridgewater completed over 53 passes of his passes last season when he was under duress.
The Louisville quarterback wasn't just competent against a pass rush, he was better than anybody else in the class. He completed 53.5 percent of his passes under duress, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, throwing for 508 yards and connecting on seven touchdown passes against one interception. Only Florida State's Jameis Winston and Missouri's James Franklin were better. Bridgewater hit 70.1 percent of his throws against pass rushes of five or more; UCLA's Brett Hundley was the only FBS QB with a higher completion percentage.
"He was the best against the blitz. He's very cool and calm under pressure," Spielman said.
Bridgewater saw plenty of other pressure during the pre-draft process, following a heavily scrutinized pro day that dinged his draft stock and removed him from the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick. His decision not to wear a glove, after throwing with one during his college career, backfired, and the narrative changed to whether Bridgewater would go in the first round of the draft at all. But once offensive coordinator Norv Turner started coaching Bridgewater during a workout in Florida last month, Spielman said, "some of the flaws you may have seen during the original pro day, those things were getting corrected, and getting corrected quickly."
The quarterback said in a conference call on Thursday night that he met "four or five times" with the Vikings, and had told coach Mike Zimmer he thought Minnesota was the place for him. Zimmer talked during the pre-draft process about how important it was for a quarterback to mirror his personality, and with Bridgewater, he clicked.
"You know the thing I like the most about him? He wins," Zimmer said. "Everywhere he's ever been, he wins. Starts as a freshman in high school: wins. Starts as a freshman in college, and wins. This guy, he's got something about him. One of the reasons we had him come in [to Minnesota] was, he had another physical. He had a little thing about his heart. I said, 'How's your heart?' He said, 'Well, it was too big.'"
He impressed the Vikings with how he handled adversity off the field, but Bridgewater initially stood out because of how he managed it on the field. That was one thing the Vikings needed their next quarterback to do well, and it's what set Bridgewater apart from the rest of the group.