It's been no secret that the quarterback position has been a riddle for the Minnesota Vikings since, for the most part, Fran Tarkenton retired after the 1978 season. Or kinda sorta a train wreck, your call. The list of guys to take over the job has been countless, yet it seems the number of seasons the Vikings have gotten solid production from one of those guys could be counted on one hand.
In 2014, it feels like there might be light at the end of the dark tunnel of quarterback mediocrity. Entering camp, the Vikings have a combination of stability and potential at the position, and the direction they choose--and the results of that decision--will largely determine how the season unfolds.
Let's look at the candidates.
Matt Cassel, Presumed Starter: Other than debacles against Cincinnati and Carolina, two of the best defenses in the NFL last year, the Minnesota Vikings offense played at a balanced and respectable level when Cassel was under center. The only games they won are games he started or finished, with the exception of the Washington game, and Greg Jennings was at his most productive with Cassel throwing to him. At 33, he's obviously not the long term answer, but he can provide a transition into the next era. He will enter camp number one on the depth chart, and it seems that the job is his to lose.
With Cassel, you're not going to get a cannon for an arm, and you're probably not going to get a top 10 season. You'll have a TD/INT ratio that's close to 1/1, but you'll also get a consistency and an ability to get the ball downfield that we haven't seen around here since 2009. When you throw Norv Turner into the mix, and look at a couple of past seasons when Cassel had really productive years, you talk yourself into thinking Cassel can at least be within shouting distance, production wise, with the rest of the quarterbacks in the NFC North, or close to it. If he can, watch out.
Teddy Bridgewater, The Future: Bridgewater will enter camp as the #2 guy behind Cassel, yet you get the feeling that with as fast as he's picking up the playbook, he could be the starter come week one in St. Louis. There's a lot of debate as to whether or not this is a good thing or a bad thing, and there are solid points to be made for both sitting and watching or playing right away. I think it depends on the individual, to an extent, but I will trust the staff on this one.
One of the things Bridgewater has in his favor to play right away is that this is a new offense for everyone, so he isn't coming into camp trying to play catch up to the other two guys. Of the other two, he has the most natural talent, and if OTA reports are to be believed, he's already establishing himself as a leader. It's no secret that the new staff wants him to be their starter, but they've also made it very clear--in a radical departure from past coaching staffs--that the best player will start. Although Bridgewater has the weight of future expectations on him, he doesn't have the added pressure of playing before he should. Whether that is a good or bad thing is something I will leave for you to decide on your own.
Christian Ponder, Former Starter: Friends, Norseman, Countrymen, lend me your ears. I come here to praise Christian Ponder, not bury him. Well, praise is probably too harsh a term, but I'm not going to bash him. He's had enough of that on this board, and by former players recently. I wanted Ponder, a 2011 first round pick, to work out here. I don't think anyone wanted him to actually fail, but there were a lot of questions as to whether or not he was a first round talent.
It looks like that question has been answered with a resounding 'no', and of all the QB's on the roster, it strikes me as next to impossible as Ponder being the starter heading in to the opener. Well, I do see a narrow path to him starting, but it wouldbe a Series of Unfortunate Events for the other two to see that come to fruition. If there is a combination of injury and woeful unpreparedness from both, and then we might see Ponder. Although injuries could become an issue, with the way you hear Bridgewater prepare, I doubt the latter will occur.
But that said, I do believe Mike Zimmer when he says the best player will start. If that turns out to be Christian Ponder, I'll be happy for him, and I'd expect to see a lot of improvement from last year. We'll see.
So, who's going to be the opening day starter? I'm going to go out on a bit of a limb and say it's going to be Teddy Bridgewater, for a couple reasons. He has the most natural ability of the three, and come training camp, he'll know the playbook as well as, if not better than, Cassel and Ponder. Maybe I have some purple shaded glasses here, which is very possible, but Teddy H2O doesn't strike me as your typical rookie, and I think he'll be ready for the NFL by the end of training camp.
But hey, that's just me.