EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – Two days in the middle of the summer aren’t going to determine success or failure, but missing two days of practice ate at Teddy Bridgewater anyway.
Bridgewater wasn’t happy to miss part of the Minnesota Vikings’ organized team activities as he tries to acclimate as quickly as possible to the NFL. The rookie quarterback Minnesota has put its hopes on spent two days at the NFL Rookie Premiere, an obligation for Bridgewater as he was one of a select few rookies chosen to participate in the event.
The time away, even if just a few days, didn’t sit well with Bridgewater.
"Anytime I have to miss practice, it doesn’t feel good," Bridgewater said last week after returning to Vikings’ practice.
Bridgewater hasn’t given himself much time away. He’s been a constant in the team’s facility since he was drafted in May, rarely leaving Minnesota and spending as much time at Winter Park as he’s allowed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Not as if a first-round pick is able to go about his work anonymously, but Bridgewater’s attitude and effort is catching the attention of coaches and teammates.
"He’s a worker," coach Mike Zimmer said. "He wants to be really, really good. He’s kind of feeling his way a little bit around the guys, which that will come in time. He understands he’s a young guy, so he’ll keep going, progressing in that way the more comfortable he feels around everybody, but I like him a lot. He’s going to be a good football player for us."
Bridgewater has been all about football, freed from splitting his time between the game and classes at Louisville. He’s said he has nothing to do, "but sit around the facility and try to get better." The ability to focus all his attention on his craft is a welcome change.
"It’s still a work in progress," Bridgewater said of fitting in with the team. "Every day when I walk into this facility, it’s a work in progress. I’m a student of the game so I’m trying to get better in every aspect whether it’s being a better teammate in the locker room, being a better teammate on the field, in the meeting room. In the locker room, I’m taking note of guys that have been in the National Football League for years now."
Bridgewater is making no assumptions early on in his time with the Vikings. He’s playing the role of rookie, biding his time and absorbing as much as he can from veteran teammates.
Minnesota’s move to trade back into the first round of the draft and select Bridgewater was about securing the future at the position. Soon enough, the calls will be for Bridgewater to be quarterback of the present. He’s OK with easing into his role.
"It’s not tough at all because I have nothing but my best interest for the team, and I’m very excited about this team that we have here," Bridgewater said. "If I’m not the guy then I know the coaches have the best interest for the team also. My teammates also have the best interest for the team. So in order for me to be a better player, I have to have the best interest for the team and want nothing but the best interest for the team."
For now, it’s practice and working toward being the Vikings’ eventual starting quarterback.
The two days away did affect Bridgewater. Zimmer said he looked "rusty" in the first two days back.
"It’s all a process," Zimmer said. "That’s why we practice every day in the regular season, so we get better each and every day and we don’t have these lapses."
Considered the most pro-ready quarterback in the draft and an accomplished passer in his time at Louisville, the NFL is still a big change.
"The biggest challenge is just anticipating throws," Bridgewater said. "In college, open was 10 feet. Now in the NFL, open can be just a couple of inches. So just being more decisive, anticipating throws more and I feel like I’m doing a great job learning from Matt (Cassel) and Christian (Ponder). Also (offensive coordinator Norv Turner) has been teaching me to throw it on time, trust your feet and everything will happen."
Bridgewater is learning the NFL and is patient in his ascension to starting quarterback and team leader. But he doesn’t sound like the typical rookie. Bridgewater comes off calm and composed, just as his play was for three years at Louisville.
"I can control how fast everything is going by just breathing," Bridgewater said. "Stepping back, taking a deep breath and just breathe. That’s been helping me throughout this entire process of transitioning into the NFL to just controlling your breathing and slowing things down. Of course the NFL is much faster than it was in college but the guys are out here helping."