Bridgewater surprising Vikings with deep throws

Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater averaged 9.3 yards per attempt in college last season, which tied for eighth in the nation. 

Ann Heisenfelt/AP

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Norv Turner played a key role in the Vikings drafting Teddy Bridgewater, trusting he can solve Minnesota’s musical chairs at quarterback.

Turner, as Minnesota’s new offensive coordinator, will be partially responsible for grooming Bridgewater into a quality long-term starter, something the Vikings haven’t had since Daunte Culpepper was once heaving deep shots to Randy Moss. Turner evaluated all the quarterbacks in this year’s draft for Minnesota and believed Bridgewater had the tools to become a quality NFL quarterback.

Yet, even Turner has been surprised by one element of Bridgewater’s game through his first summer with the Vikings.

"One of the things that has been the most impressive to me is, I knew he’d be very accurate, I knew he’d make great decisions, quick decisions, but he’s been outstanding throwing the ball deep, which some people thought that was going to be an issue," Turner said. "I think in the six or eight weeks we’ve had him on the field, I think he’s been put in a position where he’s had to make most of the throws he would have to make and I think he can make all the throws he needs to make."

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Bridgewater has acclimated quickly to the NFL, living up to the advanced billing as being perhaps the most pro-ready quarterback in this year’s draft. Bridgewater had 39 games of college film for scouts to evaluate as a three-year starter at Louisville. He was considered poised, smart, accurate and athletic.

The biggest knock on Bridgewater before the draft — aside from the glove questions — was his arm strength, which appeared to lag behind some of the other top prospects such as Johnny Manziel, Derek Carr and Blake Bortles.

But Bridgewater isn’t a soft tosser. He might already have the strongest arm of the Vikings quarterbacks.

"It’s just been all footwork, laying it and playing," Bridgewater said. "I’ve been able to watch Matt (Cassel), watch Christian (Ponder), and watch how those guys have had great success throwing the deep ball and try to apply some of the things that they’re doing to my game also."

Cassel provided competency at the position last year for Minnesota, but he isn’t known for having a strong arm. Ponder isn’t a big-armed, downfield passer, either.

Bridgewater’s passes appear to have more velocity than those of Cassel or Ponder. At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, he might even grow in the NFL weight-lifting programs, and footwork will be a point of emphasis.

"It’s all due to just continuing to come out every day and try to get better," Bridgewater said. "I’m able to learn from Matt and Christian, watch the little details in those guys’ passing game and really their footwork when they’re throwing the deep ball. I can always learn from those guys."

Bridgewater averaged 9.3 yards per attempt last season, which tied for eighth in the nation. He finished second in the nation with a 71-percent completion rate.

Vikings 2014 Draft Capsules

With Cassel, Ponder and Josh Freeman sharing time last season, Minnesota was tied for 22nd in the NFL in yards per attempt with a 6.7-yard average. The Vikings were tied for 19th in completion percentage at 59.5 percent.

In Ponder’s NFL career, he’s averaged 6.4 yards per attempt. His collegiate average at Florida State was 7.1 yards per attempt.

Turner, of course, is known for his willingness to attack downfield in the passing game. He has a new quarterback who’s surprising him in his ability to do just that.

"It’s always fun with a younger player that it’s all new to them, they’ve got the big eyes," Turner said. "Teddy is so great to be around that it’s easy. As coach (Mike) Zimmer has said, he knows how to work. He’s very instinctive. He’s a very natural player."

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