Defending Bridgewater: 'Turn on the tape'

One year ago, Teddy Bridgewater was the unquestioned top quarterback prospect in the 2014 draft. Since then, he led Louisville to 12 victories, posted career highs for passing yards, completion percentage, completions, yards per attempt and touchdown passes while tossing just four interceptions.

Yet Bridgewater has gone from unquestioned to repeatedly questioned -- about his size, his decision not to throw or run the 40 at the combine, his “average” performance at pro day, his missing glove, his reportedly shaky performances during private workouts and his ability to lead.

Scrutiny always follows the top prospects in the draft, most especially potential franchise quarterbacks. Geno Smith could write a novel on the topic. One negative comment turns into two negative comments, smokescreens become reality, and the truth lies obscured in game tape that has seemingly lost its value.

Bridgewater is still projected as a first-round pick; but the praise heaped on him during his college career has nearly vanished. The draft process has overshadowed his various accomplishments, which explains why former Pitt quarterback Tom Savage generated more hype in a day than Bridgewater has in a month.

“What’s being said in the media is not necessarily being said in draft rooms by people who are being paid to be in the know and who need to do their due diligence and homework,” says Texas assistant Shawn Watson, who served as Bridgewater’s quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at Louisville. “I just know in the end, he has all the traits for a can’t-miss player. I’ve seen his accuracy. I’ve seen his competitiveness, his decision making. I’ve seen how he’s been such a great student, learning how to enhance his game, to use his eyes as a weapon, develop his feet, develop his pocket awareness, learn to be a full-field read guy, take us to the line of scrimmage and put us in the right play or spin our protection to pick up the blitz.

“He is what every college football coach dreams for, and I think the same could be said for the NFL because he can process a lot of information and keep it in the simplest form and make you right. I know he’s got ‘it.’ The ‘it’ factor is just innately in his DNA.”

In the three years they worked together, Watson and Bridgewater became as close as father and son, so yes, Watson is biased. But he also knows Bridgewater better than anybody doing the evaluating. When NFL executives have called to ask him about Bridgewater, he tells them simply: Turn on the tape.

“I said, ‘Listen, take out the big games in our program,” Watson says. “Then look at the film. Look at both sides. When you walk away from the film, answer the question: How did that happen? Why did that happen? And you’re going to go back to No. 5.”

Turn to his true freshman season in 2011, on the road at No. 24 West Virginia, in just the sixth start of his career. Bridgewater went 21-of-27 for 246 yards with a score in the Louisville upset win.

Turn to his sophomore season in 2012. Playing with a broken wrist and sprained ankle, Bridgewater delivered a performance for the ages on the road against Rutgers in the regular-season finale, leading a victory that clinched a BCS berth. In that BCS game -- the Allstate Sugar Bowl -- Bridgewater exposed No. 3 Florida in a 33-23 win, sending his stock soaring.

Turn to the final game of his career, the Russell Athletic Bowl in 2013. Playing against his hometown Miami Hurricanes, Bridgewater threw for a career-high 447 yards with four total touchdowns.

Watson has been asked about Bridgewater’s size recently. Bridgewater checked into the combine at 214 pounds. He played his sophomore year around 220, but jaw surgery in the summer of 2013 set him back and he has not fully recovered. Watson is convinced Bridgewater can get there.

As for the uncharacteristic showing at pro day, Watson has an answer at the ready.

“In the end, if you’re a football coach, it comes down to what I get on tape,” Watson says. “His resume is on his film. Pro day -- or like me when I’m watching a high school kid throw -- you will get certain things out of it, but the ability to play in that world where 100 million things are happening, it’s like being in the eye of the hurricane, the poise, the calm and delivering to make plays, he’s put that all over film. That’s why he had all the talk and the chatter as it began and that’s why the interest was there.

“So that’s why I think the people who get paid to make those decisions, they’re going to look at that stuff because that’s the stuff that counts. I know this about Teddy, he shows up big when the lights go on.”

No matter where he goes, or when he goes, that much seems to be a lock. Just turn on the tape.