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A year later, Vikings' long look at Teddy Bridgewater paying off

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Adam Hunger/USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS -- The irony of Teddy Bridgewater's rickety pro day -- an event that did not create the same hysteria in Minnesota as it did in other corners of the NFL -- is not lost on Norv Turner.

"In 10 years," the Minnesota Vikings' offensive coordinator said last week, "someone will probably claim we planned it that way."

Turner's wisecrack assumes that in a decade, when the 62-year-old offensive coordinator is probably enjoying retirement, Bridgewater will have done enough for the Vikings to inspire urban myths about how it was that the Louisville quarterback -- thought at one point to be the best player in the 2014 draft -- managed to slip all the way to the end of the first round. If, by that point, Bridgewater has delivered championships to a tortured fan base and bronzed the legacies of Turner, head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman, it will all have begun with a simple credo: Trust what you see.

The Vikings liked Bridgewater before his clunky pro day last March. They already believed he had the best film of any quarterback in the draft. He had sold them on his football acumen through a series of meetings and earned their trust in his character in a dinner with Vikings personnel and his mother, Rose Murphy, the night before his pro day. Even back to a cold night in 2012, when Spielman had watched Bridgewater play with a broken left wrist and sprained ankle to beat Rutgers for the Big East title, something about Bridgewater had stuck with him.

And through four decades evaluating quarterbacks, Turner had developed a distrust for the orchestrated events pro days had become -- as much showcases for private QB instructors as they were a reliable evaluation tool for scouts and coaches. His son, Vikings quarterbacks coach Scott Turner, had the same feeling.

Still, there were things about Bridgewater's pro day performance that were impossible to ignore. So as the Turners and Spielman traveled to Fort Lauderdale's University High School for a private workout with Bridgewater before the draft, they wanted one more chance to strip away the layers and get a good, solid answer to the question they'd been asking themselves since his pro day: This guy is who we thought he was, right?

"We still felt the same way we did. We said, 'Hey, he missed some throws at the pro day,'" Scott Turner said. "But at the same time, he did [miss some throws]. So you're saying, 'Hey, let's make sure we're right.'"

As soon as the Vikings' decision-makers stepped out of the car and into the South Florida heat, they could tell the day was going to be different.

"He was already on the field," Spielman said. "He already had the receivers warmed up. He came out to greet us, and he was like, 'We're ready to go.' Usually, you go to pro days, you're waiting for guys getting organized. But he was all lathered up, the receivers were all lathered up. As soon as we walked out of that car, he was champing at the bit to go.

"Even his leadership there -- that's a sign. You walk out, and everything's ready to go on time."

Norv and Scott Turner ran private workouts for most of the quarterbacks the Vikings were interested in before last year's draft, and like the rest of them, Bridgewater's was relatively straightforward. The Vikings put Bridgewater through all of the throws they'd need him to make in their offense, with Norv Turner interjecting with coaching points or changes he'd like to see on certain throws. The Vikings had noticed all of Bridgewater's misses during his pro day were to his right; they changed Bridgewater's footwork on such passes and asked him to set his feet faster at the top of his dropback.

There was no one mimicking an oncoming pass-rusher during the workout -- "Someone should take those brooms and shove them up someone's backside," Norv Turner said. The Vikings essentially ran the 90-minute workout like a long practice, designed to answer three questions: Could Bridgewater make all the throws in the Vikings' offense, could he take coaching and could he adjust on the fly?

After the workout, the answer was an emphatic yes on all three fronts.

"We didn't think he put forth his best effort on his pro day, but we weren't sounding alarms like the whole world was at the time," Scott Turner said. "That [private] workout answered those questions for us, positively."

The story of the quarterback class of 2014 is still in principal photography, but with Blake Bortles still developing in Jacksonville and Johnny Manziel's future in doubt in Cleveland, the Vikings and Bridgewater look like the early winners. The Vikings liked Manziel last year but not enough to offer what it would have taken to move up 17 spots and draft him, especially when they had Bridgewater at the top of their QB board with Manziel.

No one in the Vikings' organization is suggesting the team has unearthed a Hall of Famer yet, especially when Bridgewater is among the first to say he needs to improve in his second season. But after a solid rookie year from Bridgewater has the Vikings out of the QB hunt this spring, the team's decision-makers can breathe a little easier, knowing it was their ability to resist hyperventilation a year ago that got them there.

"You have a potential long-term solution to that position, and to me, that's the hardest position to try to fill," Spielman said. "Does it take any pressure off the draft? No, because you still want to do well with all your picks. But you can go through the league, and how many teams are looking for quarterbacks? You've got to keep swinging until hopefully you hit on your guy."