In the span of a year, Teddy Bridgewater has gone from a rookie competing for the starting job and opening 2014 as a reserve to returning to Mankato this season as the Vikings undisputed starter.
Minnesota was encouraged by an inaugural campaign in which Bridgewater set or tied virtually every franchise record by a first-year QB and won Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year. The Vikings approached the offseason able to build around Bridgewater for a run they believe can span the next several years.
There's been positivity floated from the outside with regard to Bridgewater's potential. Recently he was listed in NFL.com's Around The NFL's "Making the Leap" candidates for 2015, landing as the second-most likely to take a big jump forward this fall.
With five days remaining until No. 5 and his teammates launch training camp, here are five things that could help Bridgewater in his second season.
There's no substitute for in-game experience, and Bridgewater gained a substantial amount in starting 12 of the 13 games he played. He began with an impressive debut against the Falcons, but took a step back in his next start against a Detroit defense that was much better than Atlanta's last season. By season's end, however, Bridgewater showed immense progress. In his final five games, he was 101-of-140 passing (72.1 percent) for 1,230 yards with eight touchdowns against five interceptions and a passer rating of 102.98. That heater as the weather got colder included rightfully changing a play at the line of scrimmage and connecting with Jarius Wright for an 87-yard catch-and-run to beat the Jets in overtime.
More respect for the Vikings run game:
Bridgewater will take the field for the first time with 2012 NFL MVP Adrian Peterson. The franchise leader in rushing yards (10,190) has returned and looked impressive during the Vikings offseason workout program and minicamp. Peterson's proven potential to break loose at any moment from any distance has been well documented and should be a primary focus of every defensive game plan. Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon played hard and well last season, but Peterson's status as one of the best of a generation will demand more respect for the Vikings run game* *by 2015 opponents.
Multiple threats, options in passing game
GM Rick Spielman's execution of a trade for Mike Wallace added speed to a fleet-footed group of receivers and gives Bridgewater an option who's damaged opponents with deep passes in Pittsburgh and was successful on shorter routes in Miami, catching nine of his 10 touchdowns in 2014 inside the red zone. Having multiple options to connect with Wallace, and the attention he'll command, should increase opportunities for all Vikings receivers this season.
Kyle Rudolph has returned full-strength and remains one of the top players that Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner can utilize to create mismatches. While a full season of health is never guaranteed for anyone, Rudolph has bounced back from a snake-bitten 2014. His 6-foot-6 size and smoothness at running routes and finishing catches will go beyond providing a security blanket.
Trust of teammates
Bridgewater has the trust of teammates, an invaluable commodity that must be earned instead of gifted. Bridgewater gained this by displaying innate leadership and maturity beyond his years. He can relate to players and is now more comfortable with the responsibilities that are automatically assigned to the position because of its importance.