PHOENIX — At about this time last year, Teddy Bridgewater was getting raked over the pre-draft coals.
- Too skinny. Will get hurt.
- Hands are too small. You can’t pick him if you’re a cold-weather team.
- What a terrible pro day, especially on deep passes. Who needs a glove to throw?
- Too quiet. Not enough of a leader.
Instead of going in the top 10, Bridgewater went 32nd overall to the Vikings. We know the result. Bridgewater ended up having the best season of all the rookie quarterbacks and was among the best first-year players regardless of position, grouped with the likes of Odell Beckham, Zack Martin, Joel Bitonio and Mike Evans. In his final five games of the season, Bridgewater didn’t have a passer rating below 84 (three times over 100), completed 72.1 percent of his passes for 1,230 yards and eight touchdowns against five interceptions.
So, after all was said and done, how much did any of those pre-draft concerns factor into Bridgewater’s game?
“It really didn't matter,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said at the league meetings earlier this week. “That's the thing about scouting. You think you have the right guy. You never really know. We didn't really know.
“Like the players, I've just been really impressed [by Bridgewater]. In practice he might miss three throws. His accuracy in games but also in practice—it's like, 'Oh my goodness.' I'm excited to get him into the dome, where we have eight games, and then Detroit [the Vikings’ ninth indoor game every season]. He has a chance to really be something.”
Leonard Williams: Our Andy Benoit sat down for a film session with the draft's best defensive player.Marcus Mariota: The Oregon QB's game is being scrutinized more than anyone's.Brandon Scherff: The draft's best—and nastiest—blocker is a modern-day Paul Bunyan.T.J. Clemmings: A switch from defense to offensive tackle awakened a monster.Shaq Thompson: Before he was an NFL prospect, he was baseball's worst player.
This year it’s Marcus Mariota’s turn to be torn up during the pre-draft process.
- Subpar pro day.
- Hasn’t shown the ability to make all the throws.
- Too quiet. Won't be able to command a huddle.
A lot of the same stuff that Bridgewater heard, in particular that last one. It will be interesting to see if Bridgewater’s success will help Mariota. There were teams, several of them, that were turned off by Bridgewater because he doesn’t walk and talk with the swagger of a gunslinger. Believe it or not, despite the success of quarterbacks like Eli Manning and Matt Ryan, that still matters to some in the NFL.
“Just because a guy doesn’t yell and scream at a guy when he doesn’t run the right route, ask any of those guys if they’d take Eli Manning,” said Chip Kelly, Mariota’s coach at Oregon before Kelly went to the Eagles. “I don’t see Eli Manning screaming and yelling at anybody. But you talk about a stone-cold killer in the fourth quarter, look how many fourth-quarter comebacks Eli’s had.
“It’s the silly season. I’ve said it before. The NFL draft hype is the craziest thing in the world. Guys are going to go up, guys are going to go down. Cam Newton couldn’t play; there’s no reason to draft him in the first round. All of a sudden he goes No. 1. It’s crazy.”
Zimmer, who had been known as a smart and cocky defensive coordinator before getting his head-coaching shot with the Vikings, admitted he was one of those guys who wanted to see some swagger out of his quarterback. Zimmer might not have been as adamant about it as other coaches, but he certainly considered that factor a plus.
Bridgewater has made him a believer.
“Well, I did learn a lot about that, to be honest with you," Zimmer said. “He's a guy who leads by how hard he works, by the improvement he makes in practice every day, the way he wanted to learn how to enunciate the plays, just all the extra effort the guy put in. ... He's not one of those guys who is going to get in your face, but the players all gravitate toward this guy. He's always got a smile. He's confident but not cocky. It's never about him, so it's always about, How can I help this guy do this better, or the team?
“Maybe it's not your leadership style that everybody is thinking about, but it was really effective this year. So I learned quite a bit.”
Mariota shares many of Bridgewater's personality traits. Has Bridgewater erased “too quiet” from the negatives list for a quarterback, and laid the groundwork for players like Mariota? We'll find out next month.
1. One more note on Marcus Mariota. Thought the comments from Browns coach Mike Pettine were interesting considering the team’s new quarterbacks coach, Kevin O’Connell, trained Mariota for the combine before going to Cleveland. "The mental part, on that he's very advanced,” Pettine said when asked what O’Connell told him. “This was a guy who I think understood coming in from the system he was playing in, that it's not similar to potentially a lot of systems he would be playing in in the league. So he understood that and addressed, it and that's one of the reasons he worked with Kevin. Because Kevin understands more of the offensive structure he's going to have to play in. He attacked a weakness. Everybody who's had him on the [white[ board [to diagram plays and talk about schemes and coverages] said he's just blown them away just because of how he's essentially turned that weakness into a strength."
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2. During training camp last year, the Ravens and 49ers practiced together for a few days.
With the physicality of both teams, and the presence of the Harbaugh brothers, it was must-see-TV. Pettine said the Browns and Bills will likely practice against each other. Pettine and Buffalo coach Rex Ryan aren’t blood brothers, but they have the same bond. Pettine was Ryan’s defensive assistant
with the Ravens
and then coordinator with the Jets. Those players better have their chin straps buckled in the sessions, which are likely to take place at Buffalo’s facility. “I’ve never been a part of it other than when I was with the Ravens and we would just day trip down to the Redskins,” Pettine said. “Never done it as a joint practice. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I think it raises the level of competition. After a while your guys get tired of going against each other and you don’t get a good sense of where you are, how we compare against another NFL team. I think you get a little more out of it.”
3. Rex Ryan tossed another log onto the fire that is the intrigue concerning how Darrelle Revis left the Patriots and landed with the Jets, Ryan’s former team. “I think it was kind of understood. I assumed he was going back to New York, and that's exactly what happened,” Ryan said. What’s unclear is why Ryan assumed that. Did Ryan think there was no chance the Patriots would pay Revis’ going rate? (Definitely possible) Or did Ryan think Revis was going to the Jets no matter what the Patriots offered?
4. In a vacuum, no, it’s not a big deal that Nebraska outside linebacker Randy Gregory, one of the top pass rushers in the draft, tested positive for marijuana at the combine, as he told NFL.com. It’s the circumstances that count. These prospects know this drug test, the biggest one of their careers, is coming ... and he still tested positive? It’s the idiot test. Bigger concern is if the positive test lands Gregory in the substance abuse program as a rookie. That means more tests, and a quicker path to a four-game suspension.
5. As the fireworks went off at the league’s annual opulent cocktail party at the Arizona Biltmore, I had two thoughts: 1) Imagine what the NFL would do after a good season; and 2) it can’t afford fixed replay cameras on the boundaries?
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