Vikings Must Continue Making Teddy Bridgewater Truly Earn Starting QB Gig

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Vikings Must Continue Making Teddy Bridgewater Truly Earn Starting QB Gig
USA Today

As the superlatives trickle out of Mankato, Minnesota, temptation may arise to anoint rookie Teddy Bridgewater as the Vikings' starting quarterback—and sooner rather than later. 

But despite Bridgewater's strong start at training camp, the Vikings have an established plan at quarterback, and they will be smart to stick with it throughout the next month. Any true competition can't be won or lost during the first few days of camp. 

According to Jay Glazer of Fox Sports, Bridgewater has been "more impressive than they expected," and early returns have prompted obvious "optimism" for the rookie's future in Minnesota. 

Vikings coaches, including head coach Mike Zimmer, have raved about Bridgewater early on in camp. 

“Teddy has been a really good get for us,” Zimmer said, via Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “I do not know when [he will start], but I am ecstatic to have him. ... The Vikings fans will be proud to have Teddy Bridgewater with us for a long, long time.”

Bridgewater is still working with the No. 2 offense, behind Matt Cassel and ahead of Christian Ponder. Cassel began camp as the team's No. 1 quarterback, and he remains projected to be the team's starter when the Vikings open the season at St. Louis on Sept. 7. 

But the Vikings are one of the few NFL teams to be putting on a true quarterback competition this summer, and a strong, overwhelming camp from any of the club's three quarterbacks may be enough to win the starting job.

Minnesota's competition closely mirrors the one staged by Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks two summers ago, when underrated rookie Russell Wilson beat out veterans Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson for the starting job in Week 1.  

Completions During 11-on-11 at Vikings Training Camp
Cassel Bridgewater Ponder
Day 1 8/13 6/9 1/4
Day 2 10/13 8/11 6/7
Day 3 10/13 9/11 6/7

Source: Ben Goessling, ESPN

Bridgewater—also a mostly overlooked rookie—has positioned himself well after just three camp days. 

However, any process as important as selecting a starting quarterback will take time, and the Vikings know they have well over a month—which includes more padded practices and four preseason games—to make their decision. For Bridgewater to truly win the job, he'll need to continue impressing everyone around him for the duration of camp and the preseason. 

His performances in games will likely tell the biggest story. 

Minnesota Vikings Preseason Games in 2014
Week Opponent Date Time*
1 Oakland Raiders Aug. 8 7:00 p.m.
2 Arizona Cardinals Aug. 16 7:30 p.m.
3 at Kansas City Chiefs Aug. 23 7:00 p.m.
4 at Tennessee Titans Aug. 28 7:00 p.m.

*Times listed in CDT

Back in 2012, Wilson remained the No. 2 quarterback on the Seattle depth chart well into August. Flynn started each of the Seahawks' first two preseason games before giving way to Wilson for the third and fourth contests.

While Flynn was merely average in the first two games, throwing for just 102 yards and an interception on 24 attempts, Wilson carved up opposing defenses. He combined for 371 total yards (279 passing), four touchdowns and a passer rating over 110.0 during his first two preseason games, and then he won the starting job by throwing for 185 yards and two scores (while also rushing for 58 yards) in his first start, a 44-14 win over the Kansas City Chiefs

It was only during preparation for the fourth and final preseason game that the Seahawks named Wilson the team's starting quarterback. 

While Minnesota's quarterback competition in 2014 may not shake out as smoothly as Seattle's in 2012, the Vikings are allowing the same plan to play out. It will rest on Bridgewater's shoulders to grasp the opportunity as coolly and calmly as Wilson did two summers ago. 

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The NFL is a win-now profession, but the Vikings are actually in a unique position. Having a rookie head coach grants some leeway. The Vikings are in no position to rush Bridgewater into any situation he's not ready for, even if Cassel and Ponder must only be considered average to below-average starting options in the NFL.

A 1-4 or 2-6 start in 2014 isn't going to cost Zimmer his job. However, throwing Bridgewater out too early and stunting his development is one decision that could end up putting Zimmer on the hot seat well before he should be.  

But that's mostly caution to the wind. If Bridgewater is the team's best quarterback during August, the Vikings should—and most likely will—pick him as the starting quarterback for Week 1. Cassel is just a bridge option between now and whenever Bridgewater is ready, and Ponder doesn't figure into the team's plans long term. 

The Vikings quarterback competition is really just a month-long crash course. So far, Bridgewater is acing the quizzes. Midterms start when the Vikings begin preseason games. The final exam will be cumulative, and should include everything the quarterbacks have put toward the competition. This way, whichever quarterback ultimately wins the Vikings starting job will have rightfully earned it. 

 

Zach Kruse covers the NFC North for Bleacher Report. 

Follow @zachkruse2

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