Vikings enter offseason with confidence in Bridgewater

Teddy Bridgewater finished with the third-best completion percentage (64.4 percent) among rookie quarterbacks in NFL history.

Brad Rempel/Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Mike Zimmer’s declaration Tuesday wasn’t a surprise in the context of the way the Minnesota Vikings finished the season with rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Zimmer’s feelings on Bridgewater show the difference a year can make.

"Teddy is the quarterback," Zimmer said. "There’s no doubt in my mind he’s the quarterback to run this team."

Having no doubts at quarterback has been a long time coming for Minnesota. When Zimmer was named the team’s coach a year ago, he wasn’t sure who would be his quarterback.

Matt Cassel had one more season left on his contract but had the option to opt-out. The team had all but moved on from Christian Ponder by deciding Cassel would start the final games of the 2013 season. The Vikings would likely add a quarterback in the draft, but there were no assurances of who it was, when he would be ready to play and how successful the pick would become.

"We obviously thought we had Adrian (Peterson) and we thought the offensive line was in a pretty good spot," Zimmer said. "The quarterback was the key for the offense and I was trying to improve the defense. I think we’re fortunate to the fact that we learned an awful lot about Teddy this year with the progress that he’s made."

Bridgewater, selected with the final pick of the first round of the 2014 draft after a trade with Seattle, has ended any uncertainty and given Zimmer and the team a foundation on which to build.

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"To have a guy that everybody is confident in him being the guy, that makes him more confident in his job because everyone thinks he’s the guy for the job," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "Having had his success like he did this year, a rookie year where he’s really thrown into a situation, really just makes it even better. Had he sat here, maybe played a couple of games here or there in spot duty and did OK, it wouldn’t maybe be the same feeling."

During the season’s final five weeks, Bridgewater was statistically one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. In the final five games, Bridgewater was tied for first with Dallas’ Tony Romo in completion percentage (72.1 percent), according to STATS. Bridgewater’s 103.0 quarterback rating was second only to Romo (117.1).

Bridgewater was second to Seattle’s Russell Wilson in yards per attempt in that span, averaging 8.79 yards per attempt. Meanwhile, the offense which had struggled after losing Peterson, scored 30 or more points in three of the final five games. Four of the last five games were against teams in the top 12 in total defense.

Rounding out his rookie season, Bridgewater finished with the third-best completion percentage (64.4 percent) among rookie quarterbacks in NFL history. His 85.2 quarterback rating was the eighth-highest total among rookie quarterbacks in league history.

"I think it’s no secret in the NFL that the quarterback is the big difference," safety Harrison Smith said. "Having that position, having a guy like Teddy, who’s got all the tools to do it, who’s got the mindset, the way the guys feel about him — he’s a guy that’s not doing things off the field — it’s huge."

Teammates would tease Bridgewater because of his quiet demeanor on the field. But they rallied behind their rookie quarterback.

"There were sometimes the guys, they called me a mute because I would joke around on the sideline and in the pregame and I would sing songs and tell jokes with those guys, but the moment that first whistle was blown for that first kickoff of the game I would just get silent and just continue to lock in," Bridgewater said. "But the guys around here, they’ve allowed me to be more assertive with them. We have a great group of men here that they will take leadership, whether it’s from the coaching staff or from the youngest player on the team. It just shows the character that we have here."

And the difference from last season when Minnesota didn’t know who would be its leader at the quarterback position.

"I think it will allow the focus to be moved to other spots," Zimmer said. "We’ve got a lot of spots to go. But I think that will help us solidify probably the No. 1 question that was going on at this point of time last year."

Bridgewater, who said he’s spoken "a lot" with Donovan McNabb for guidance, is accepting of his leadership position, which should only grow with his standing as the starting quarterback.

He plans to get together with his receivers in the offseason, saying he wants to bring the group to Florida to work with them. Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson already said he plans to spend time working with Bridgewater in the offseason.

"It will be very important," Bridgewater said. "We just want to continue to build on the momentum that we have right now. We have an understanding of what the coaching staff is trying to do here. We have a great understanding of the system now. It will be pretty exciting heading to this offseason and heading to our second year in the system."

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