Bridgewater debut leaves room for growth

MIINNEAPOLIS -- Flanked by his family, Teddy Bridgewater slipped up to the press box at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium an hour after his first NFL game, headphones wrapped around his head and a backpack strapped to his shoulders as he snagged a piece of cheese pizza.

In some ways, Bridgewater's first action in the NFL was no different, carrying no more pressure, than the college games he coolly controlled at Louisville.

And yet, in other ways, Bridgewater's debut felt leagues away from his work in college, as the quarterback who operated with such ease at Louisville got rushed and rattled by the Oakland Raiders' defense. Bridgewater's first throw of the night -- a 21-yard strike to Greg Jennings after he rolled to his right -- was called back by an illegal formation penalty, and he bounced his next pass off the turf as he escaped a pass rush. Bridgewater didn't force passes but took a pair of sacks and fumbled on one from the Raiders' 20-yard line. Had Matt Kalil not beaten two Raiders to the ball, Bridgewater's first drive would have ended with a turnover instead of a field goal.

He finished the night 5-of-13 for 49 yards, with his longest throw of the night totaling 13 yards after the Jennings play was called back. Bridgewater didn't force passes into traffic and showed the ability to move in the pocket that he's displayed throughout training camp. But after Matt Cassel efficiently moved the Minnesota Vikings down the field for a touchdown on his first drive, Bridgewater took over with a performance that showed he's still got some growing to do.

"There was a couple times in the game when he just didn't act like a veteran," coach Mike Zimmer said. "Things happened he hadn't seen before. Those are all great experiences for him. He made some great throws and had a couple mishaps. I think Teddy is going to be a great player."

The thought here has been that the Vikings won't rush Bridgewater into action unless he is so impressive in the preseason that the team's decision-makers believe he gives them a better chance to win right away than Matt Cassel does. Bridgewater's thirst for knowledge, and his desire not to make the same mistake twice, have helped him improve quickly so far, and now that he's got film of himself against an NFL defense, he'll have plenty to study this week as he prepares for next Saturday's game against the Arizona Cardinals.

But any notion that Bridgewater was going to grab the starting job without some hiccups was quickly dispatched on Friday night, when his highly-anticipated Vikings debut served as a reminder the Vikings will need to be patient with him.

Asked if the speed of the NFL game was the biggest difference for him from college, Bridgewater said, "I would say so. Like I said earlier in the week, open in the National Football League isn't open how it was in college. You know guys aren't going to be wide open in the National Football League, because guys are playing pretty tight coverage. Everything is happening faster, so that has been the biggest transition so far."