Over the course of the last nine years, under three different coaches and two quasi to authentic GM's, the Minnesota Vikings have drafted three guys they thought were going to be the Next Big Thing at quarterback. In 2006, the Vikings took little known Tarvaris Jackson out of 1-AA Alabama State at the end of the second round, and in 2011 they selected FSU's Christian Ponder with the 12th overall pick in the first round.
Both picks were immediately questioned, for different reasons. For Jackson, he was a little known quarterback who the Vikings traded back up into the second round to get. Most people thought that was an unnecessary move, and he would've been available into the fourth and fifth round. For Ponder, most folks thought he was taken too high as well, and that he might have been available in the second round.
Whether either scenario is accurate or not is now moot. The circumstances surrounding their arrival would've been quickly forgotten had either of them produced on the field, but they were eerily similar in production, and ultimately, popularity.
For Bridgewater, it was different. For the better part of two years, it was widely assumed he was going to be the top pick in the NFL Draft, or at least in the top four or five selections. Then, as the draft got closer, Bridgewater started to slide. When draft day came, he was still available with the last pick in the first round, and Minnesota traded with Seattle, nabbing him. From most parts of the NFL, it was hailed as a great move by GM Rick Spielman, and some folks even thought getting Bridgewater at 32 was a downright steal.
So right away, perceptions of how each quarterback came to the team were different. And in the 2014 draft, most fans wanted Bridgewater, or Johnny Manziel. With Jackson, he was very much a surprise pick, and was known to very few people outside of hard core draftniks. For Ponder, he was also a surprise pick, especially that high in the draft. The Vikings needed a QB in both 2006 and 2011, but neither Jackson or Ponder were the guys most fans seemed to identify with, while Bridgewater was.
I've been fortunate enough to cover three training camps now, and each one also happened to be the first training camp for Jackson, Ponder, and now Teddy Bridgewater. For Jackson and Ponder, I came away with distinct impressions about how they conducted themselves, and whether or not they had embraced the role as eventual starting quarterback and 'face of the franchise'.
If you don't want to go read the article from 2011, the bottom line for me was that Jackson never seemed to get comfortable with the face of the franchise part of the job, and Ponder did. There were a variety of factors that played into that, but the one thing they both had in common was that although they both handled the media differently, and one seemed like he had that 'It' factor, neither of them ultimately did.
So what about Teddy?
Teddy's different. In watching him interact with the media, he seems like he's been preparing for this role for quite awhile. Like Ponder, he's at ease standing in front of a camera, or a horde of reporters. He's seems more business-like than Ponder first was, but that's not a knock on either guy, and Bridgewater is a relaxed and good natured guy. Jackson just never looked at ease talking to anyone, whether it was one guy or the standard media swarm after practice.
Bridgewater's in a radically different situation, too. In both 2006 and 2011, Jackson and Ponder came in with no expectations of starting right away. For Jackson, he was starting behind solid veteran Brad Johnson, and there was no talk of him working with the first team. He was a '2 years down the road' guy, a short term project if you will. For Ponder, he had the issue of the labor lockout, and the right-before-camp-trade of Donovan McNabb. Ponder's timeline for starting was shorter than Jackson's, but like Jackson, the team took all the pressure off of him to start right away.
And in their defense, neither of them were ready. Both struggled mightily in training camp, but Ponder seemed to be better at putting a bad play behind him and moving on. Neither of them worked with the first team during training camp (or at least took significant reps), at least if my memory serves me correctly. And quite frankly, neither of them were ready, as they both had trouble adjusting to the speed of the NFL.
For Bridgewater, again it's different. He's competing for the starting job, and is slowly being worked in with the first team. Unlike Ponder and Jackson, Bridgewater looks pretty good. Yes, he still has his moments. He can be inconsistent at times, and his performance has dropped a bit with the first team, as he had two interceptions in the 11 on 11 scrimmage yesterday. But overall, he's already competing at a very high level. He throws a laser of a football, is MILES ahead of where Ponder and Jackson were at reading a defense and going through his receiver progressions, and seems comfortable both on and off the field.
Jackson never looked comfortable in either place. Ponder said all the right things off the field, but struggled on the field. Teddy? He's different. He understands and embraces the title of 'Face Of The Franchise' off the field, and is quickly adapting to the NFL game on the field.
Yes, this is all anecdotal, and no, it's not a guarantee of success. But for a franchise that's been searching for a franchise quarterback that can lead this team for the next decade or more, they might have finally found their guy.