On a chilly May afternoon at Winter Park, undrafted rookies from directional schools and tryout invitees from even more remote locations buzzed around the two outdoor practice fields, trying to catch the attention of the Vikings coaching staff.
Just like the dozens of players in nameless jerseys who were hoping to earn a callback from the Vikings, Teddy Bridgewater had his last name printed on tape and slapped on the front of his helmet, as if an introduction to the quarterback taken in the first round was necessary.
Besides the defensive coaches who closely watched linebacker and top pick Anthony Barr and his fellow rookie defenders, all eyes were on Bridgewater on Friday, the first day of the team’s three-day rookie minicamp. Despite a few missed connections with receivers he just met this week, the 21-year-old looked comfortable leading the huddle and throwing into a light Minnesota breeze.
“I think I did a pretty good job from a mental and physical standpoint,” he said after practice.
Early in the afternoon, Bridgewater — under the watchful eye of quarterbacks coach Scott Turner — spiraled deep sideline throws to a coaching assistant wearing a baseball mitt. On one of his first passes in 1-on-1 drills, he zipped a 50-yard deep ball over the head of seventh-round cornerback Jabari Price to wide receiver Adam Thielen. In team drills, he made quick reads and completed many short throws underneath the coverage.
“He expects a lot out of [himself], and you can see that out on the field,” said Thielen, who was on the practice squad last season. “I’ve been with him for a week now, and he is getting better every day.”
Bridgewater was picked off by sixth-round cornerback pick Kendall James in team drills, but the rookie responded on the next play with a strong throw to a receiver running a deep in route over the middle.
“He’s throwing the ball good,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “I think he’s got a good presence, a good command of the way he’s taking things. It was good for him to be out here with the veteran quarterbacks a little bit last week for a few days.”
During the week, Bridgewater got an opportunity to work alongside Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder, who were participating in the voluntary offseason program. He said that despite the competition that looms, they were helping him get up to speed.
“Matt and Christian have been here for a while now, and those guys have been taking me under their wing and teaching me from a field standpoint and a film standpoint,” Bridgewater said.
Bridgewater has spent “every second that I get” at the team’s facility since the Vikings drafted him 32nd overall last Thursday. Even after hanging out with wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson at a Wild playoff game on his first night in town, he headed back to his hotel after the game to get a quick primer on the playbook from Patterson.
Zimmer has taken note of Bridgewater’s preparation and how he tries to get the most out of every rep in practice. In a drill this week in which he was throwing to only one receiver, Bridgewater surprised Zimmer by calling out the entire play.
“It’s not like, ‘Hey, I’m throwing an out now,’ ” Zimmer said. “He would say the whole formation, the whole play, what it’s on and go from there, just repeat it as he goes. That was impressive.”
Zimmer said Friday that all rookies will start at the bottom of the depth chart, but he plans to give Bridgewater snaps with the first-team offense during the spring workouts so he can get familiar with running back Adrian Peterson and the rest of the veterans in the Vikings’ offensive huddle.
Bridgewater, who despite being only a week into his NFL career already has precision news conference clichés down like a wily veteran, said he isn’t concerned with where he falls on the depth chart now.
“I’m just eager to get better each and every day,” he said several times before following a string of nameless purple and white jerseys into the locker room.