The Minnesota Vikings are giving rookie Teddy Bridgewater a chance to take another big step forward in team's wide-open quarterback competition when Minnesota plays host to the Oakland Raiders Friday night in the preseason opener.
According to head coach Mike Zimmer, Bridgewater will take snaps with the first-team offense against the Raiders.
“Teddy will get some reps with the first team, yes,” Zimmer said Wednesday.
Matt Cassel will start the game, but at some point, Bridgewater will replace Cassel with the rest of the first-team offense still on the field. It's just the latest sign of Bridgewater's Russell Wilson-like ascension, and another opportunity for Bridgewater to make up ground on Cassel in their bid to start the regular-season opener.
Both Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner have clear ideas for what they want to see from Bridgewater in his debut. Composure, reacting against pressure and management of the game top the list.
Zimmer spoke about his expectations for Bridgewater:
How he handles the game situations. When the lights come on, it will be a different deal. It will be good for him and how he reacts to seeing different defenses he hasn’t seen very much of, how he has to adjust to the blitz, get the ball out, make the right calls. How he plays under pressure. I anticipate he’s going to play very well.
Turner didn't set high expectations. He simply wants his young quarterback to play within the confines of the game.
"He doesn't have to be sensational," Turner told reporters. "He just has to make good decisions. He needs to protect the ball, get our group in and out of the huddle, get in the right play, get in the right protection. That's the biggest thing about managing the game."
The Vikings have been slowly giving Bridgewater more and more responsibility. His first-team snaps have increased at camp over the last week—clearly to the point where Zimmer and Turner are comfortable playing him with the starting offense in an exhibition contest.
According to Turner, Bridgewater and Cassel have split roughly 300 throws in camp.
Maybe the most important aspect of Bridgewater's preseason debut will be how he handles live pressure.
Like at all training camps across the NFL, the Vikings do not allow their quarterbacks to be hit during practice—hence the red jerseys. The defense still tries to sack the quarterback during team drills, but even a free rusher will simply run by the quarterback and allow the play to go on.
That will not be the case Friday night, when the Raiders will be doing everything in their power to get the rookie quarterback on the ground.
The Vikings have preached getting out from under center quickly and then making fast decisions with the football to Bridgewater.
While he's a good athlete who can escape from bad situations, Bridgewater is a pocket passer first and foremost. Less athletic quarterbacks such as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning rarely get sacked because they make quick decisions.
"Coach Turner always tells me I have to be quicker with my decision-making,'' Bridgewater said. "He has been telling me I've got to get back from under center fast. ... That's been the main point for me. Just playing faster, progressing faster and just getting rid of the football faster.''
Few things are harder for young quarterbacks to grasp as rookies. The speed of the game increases ever so slightly from college, making windows tighter and time in the pocket shorter.
There's a reworking that needs to be done to each young quarterback's internal clock. Oftentimes, adjusting to the speed can spin the heads of first-year signal-callers.
Playing against a defense wearing a different-colored jersey is the next step in the process.
The Vikings will also want to see Bridgewater identify blitzes and change protections at the line, distribute the football on time, and hit the checkdown instead of forcing a throw downfield.
"He's going to make plays," Turner said. "When he had an opportunity out here, he's made plays. He's made big plays throwing the ball up the field, and he's made big plays checking the ball down."
Given that Friday represents the first preseason game of the season for everyone involved, the Vikings will likely be very simple in terms of calling plays. No one wants to show their hand too early, and a preseason opener is much more about easing back into playing mode than anything else.
The goal will be to keep the game plan simple so the players can go out and play the game without too much thinking.
In all likelihood, Zimmer has already given Bridgewater more exotic defensive looks in practice than the Raiders will show Friday night.
The Vikings are giving their young quarterback a very good opportunity right away in the preseason. With that said, expectations should still be tempered given the situation. Remember, even Wilson threw an interception during his exhibition debut in 2012.
Bridgewater can do the same Friday night if he follows the simple instructions set forth by Zimmer and Turner.
Zach Kruse covers the NFC North for Bleacher Report.
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