It dawned on me today that there's likely a very good reason that Teddy Bridgewater, despite all the potential and superior athleticism, is currently sitting on the bench in favor of Matt Cassel: Teddy's still a freshman. I've been in the teaching profession in some capacity for the last 12 years, and for the last 7 I've been teaching college music majors how to get better at playing the trumpet. There are actually a lot of similarities and overlaps in the teaching of music and the teaching of a sport. Both require a physical approach rooted in building strength and endurance, daily physical reps, and a mental approach that builds confidence through success in those daily reps. I've noticed over the years that I have to treat my new incoming freshman differently in lessons and ensembles than I do the older, returning students, because they don't know what they are doing. The freshman typically come in unsure of themselves, not knowing what to expect and are generally trying to figure out just what it means to be in college. You see, college is a totally different kind of animal than high school.
Take this year for example. I had two new trumpet majors come in who are All-State caliber musicians. It falls to me at the beginning of every year to hear them play their chair auditions for the major ensemble and seat them according to who I think is best. While I've heard them perform for years (at various band camps at the college, private lessons in the past, and scholarship auditions), I've never had them in lessons week in and week out, and I don't really know what they are capable of when the pressure is on in a real performance. On the flipside, I've heard my returning students play week in and week out for years (I already know what I've got with them). The player who has been Principal Trumpet of the major ensemble the past 2 years is returning, and he's a reliable guy, a decent trumpet player and a good leader. So when it finally came time to declare a Principal Trumpet, did I choose one of the younger guys with upside who may have some unknown variables I still need to figure out, or the seasoned veteran?
Well, I chose the veteran and didn't think twice about it. The veteran guy may not be as talented as the new guys, but he knows how to lead the section, assign parts and I trust him. And he is exactly the kind of guy that I want my young guys to learn from. He is going to set a good example for when those young guys are ready. Ultimately I'm thinking about the long-term stability of my studio and the ensemble. I would much rather have a scenario where an older, returning musician is proclaimed the Principal, and can then "pass the torch" to one of the younger guys next year. Now that I've had the new guys in lessons and ensembles for almost a month now, and I can say that the new guys are better trumpet players and musicians than the veteran. But I don't regret the decision at all. The flipside is to give the principal trumpet spot to an incoming freshman who caves under the pressure (and I've seen that happen with a former student). Obviously, there's a lot less at stake in this example than in the multi-billion dollar "must win now" NFL, not to mention the differences between music and sport. But the thought process of choosing a "starter" could very well be similar for the Vikings: Matt Cassel is not a freshman.
Teddy Bridgewater was electric in college. He was a playmaker and one of the best QB prospects to come out in recent memory. But he's got a quiet personality. He reminds me exactly of one of my new trumpet majors, who I will call "Louis". Louis is hands down the most talented guy I have in the studio right now: can hit every high note, has a great sound, incredible finger technique and can play just about anything I put in front of him. He never complains and shows up to every lesson prepared. This is a guy that will be my "section leader of the future". But he's not the section leader right now, my returning veteran (who I will call "Hatrick") is. Louis is quiet. He's tentative in studio class and lessons and is still a freshman. Louis needs to spend some time learning the ropes of what it means to be a college music major. Hatrick has been through all that already and knows what needs to be done as the section leader. Sure, Louis was the section leader when he was in high school, but high school band is full of a bunch of immature kids who are just playing for fun (I have mad respect for high school band directors...what they single-handedly put up with from a room full of a 100 kids on a daily basis would make most people curl up in the fetal position begging for mama). College band is filled with music majors who are pursuing a career in music and take it much more seriously. The stakes are higher for Louis now, and I want him to learn from an older student how to be a section leader before he takes over the reins. I want him to see how it's done and pay his dues first, not be simply handed it on day one. I think the students have already started to figure it out: they can see and hear Louis play. Even Hatrick knows his days are numbered. They all know Louis is the best player in the studio and it's only a matter of time before he becomes the section leader.
And so too, are the stakes higher for Teddy Bridgewater now in the NFL than they were in college. But like my trumpet player Louis, it's not his time yet (although it's fast approaching). Matt Cassel is showing him how to go about his business; how to prepare in the off-season, training camp and now in the regular season. Matt Cassel is showing him how to be a leader and what the difference is between being a quarterback in college and being a quarterback in the NFL, and you know who Cassel learned that from? Tom Brady, that's who. Cassel may not have the talent of Tom Brady, but I'm sure he tries to approach his craft the same way. Even so, Teddy is still a freshman. And we shouldn't be in such a hurry to throw him to the wolves. Matt Cassel is in his 9th year in the NFL and seen a lot being on three different teams, and from what I can gather Matt Cassel is a stand-up guy. I'm sure there is a lot that Teddy can pick up on after being around a guy like that. I know that Louis is learning a lot being around the older trumpet players. The older guys know what I expect of them in lessons and ensemble preparation, and I hear them talk about my expectations and about what it means to be a college music major. I know I made the right call for the long term by "sitting" Louis during his freshman year. At the end of the day, I was able to put Louis 2nd chair. He'll still get a lot of "1st trumpet part" reps, and he's getting to sit right next to a trusted veteran. So next year, Louis will be ready to lead the section.
Look, I'm not saying that we should continue to start Matt Cassel simply because he's a veteran. If Matt Cassel continues to have games like he did last week then no one should expect him to continue to remain the starter. Coach Zimmer will have to hold him accountable for his performance on the field eventually. But don't be surprised when the coaching staff continues to put their faith in Matt Cassel, even when his performance falters. The Vikings got it wrong with Christian Ponder, despite his potential. Perhaps Ponder was rushed in too soon, or didn't have a good role model in an aging "don't give a f*** Donovan McNabb". We may never know the answer, but Ponder didn't look "ready" when he started at the end of his rookie year. He showed promise, but not polish. And spent the next 2 years continuing to look "not polished" and he is now a former starting QB that has seemingly lost all of his confidence. The last thing we want is for that to happen again with Teddy Bridgewater. What I am saying is, give Norv Turner your faith to manage this situation. As Zimmer and Turner have said all off-season: Teddy Bridgewater will start when he's ready...or at least until the TB Underground deems him ready.