NFL teams
David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer 37d

Teddy Bridgewater criticizes how Carolina Panthers practiced last season

NFL, Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos

Former Carolina quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on Wednesday questioned how the Panthers practiced in two critical areas that played a part in the organization moving on from him after the first year of a three-year contract.

"I'll just say this, for Joe Brady's growth they'll have to practice different things in different ways," Bridgewater said of Carolina's offensive coordinator on the "All Things Covered" CBS Sports podcast with Patrick Peterson and Bryant McFadden.

"One of the things we didn't do much of when I was there, we didn't practice two-minute drills, we didn't practice red zone. ... We didn't practice on Fridays, but you walked through the red zone stuff and then Saturday you came out and practiced red zone but you got only 15 live reps."

Carolina's schedule was different last year under first-year coach Matt Rhule in that Friday was a walk-through instead of a full practice and Saturday was a full practice. McFadden noted that many teams devote an entire day of practice to red zone and two-minute drills.

Speaking later Wednesday, Rhule said he's happy with how his team handles the buildup to games. 

"We have a process. We have a practice schedule,'' he said. "I think we're pretty organized. We try to address all the situations. I'm not going to delve into specifics about our process. ... I feel really good about the way we practice.''

Bridgewater, traded to Denver before the 2021 NFL draft after the Panthers acquired Sam Darnold from the New York Jets, ranked 25th among qualified quarterbacks in the red zone with a Total QBR of 41.7. He completed only 58.5% of his passes in the red zone compared with 69.1% overall.

Bridgewater ranked 26th in two-minute offense with a QBR of 62.6. He had three touchdowns and four interceptions in those situations.

Bridgewater led all quarterbacks with five red zone turnovers. He also was 0-8 in games in which the Panthers had a chance to win or tie on their final possession.

Bridgewater admitted he could have done better. He also reminded listeners that he didn't have running back Christian McCaffrey for 13 games due to multiple injuries to the dual-threat Pro Bowler and didn't have a tight end target he could depend on in the red zone.

Tight ends Ian Thomas and Chris Manhertz combined for 26 catches and one touchdown in 2020, leading Carolina to upgrade at that position in the draft and free agency.

The Panthers began exploring options at quarterback soon after the 2020 season, which they finished 5-11. They offered Bridgewater, the No. 8 pick and a fifth-rounder to the Detroit Lions for Matthew Stafford, who wound up being traded to the Los Angeles Rams.

"The whole deal with Carolina, it is what it is," said Bridgewater, speaking publicly for the first time since the trade. "I told them once the season ended I wear big-boy drawers and I understand the nature of this business, and it's a performance-based business.

"I could sit out here and say, 'OK, Christian got hurt. We didn't have this. We didn't have that.' It doesn't matter. I look in a mirror and say, 'Hey, you've got to tighten up.'"

McFadden, a former NFL cornerback, followed with, "I'll say what you won't say," and that was "You didn't get treated fairly."

McFadden noted that Bridgewater, 4-11 as Carolina's starter, passed for 3,733 yards, throwing 15 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. He then noted that Darnold with the Jets was 2-10, passing for 2,208 yards with nine touchdowns to 11 interceptions and a completion rate of 59.6%.

Darnold also ranked 31st in two-minute situations with a QBR of 51.8 and 33rd in the red zone with a QBR of 10.0.

The Panthers traded a sixth-rounder in 2020, as well as a pick each in second and fourth rounds in 2022, for Darnold, the third pick of the 2018 draft. They also opted not to take a quarterback with the eighth pick even though Ohio State's Justin Fields and Alabama's Mac Jones were available.

Rhule has said repeatedly that he believes in Darnold. The Panthers exercised the fifth-year option in Darnold's contract on April 30, guaranteeing the quarterback an $18.8 million salary in 2022.

"We brought Sam here for a reason," Rhule said. "We're excited to see what he can do. We're excited to give him an opportunity. We traded for him because we believe in his potential."

Speaking Wednesday, Rhule said he expects Bridgewater to have "tremendous success'' with Denver and believes the Denver staff will feel about his former quarterback the way he does.

"I like who he is,'' Rhule said. "I like who he is as a football player. I like who he is as a leader. I don't have anything negative to say.''

Bridgewater, who overcame a career-threatening knee injury with the Minnesota Vikings in their 2016 training camp, returned as a full-time starter with Carolina last season after signing a three-year, $63 million deal.

The Panthers restructured Bridgewater's deal in order to trade him to the Broncos, agreeing to pay $7 million of the quarterback's $10 million bonus that was fully guaranteed. They also took on $17 million in dead money.

Bridgewater said moving around a lot as a kid prepared him for everything he's going through now.

"I'm a pro, man," Bridgewater said. "I could sit up here and throw all of that out there, but at the end of the day that won't get me nowhere, man."

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