Back in October, I drove three hours in a beaten down Saturn Ion on its last wheels to go see Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater. I wasn't sure I would make it there, but the chance to see an elite quarterback was as hard to pass up as an open receiver in the end zone. At the time he made everyone's pants expand at the front and tighten on the back with his incandescent skills. He smoothly threw the ball, quickly crossed defenders, and read the defense like his own playbook. He seemed destined to be the top pick, and certainly a first-round pick.
And then the season ended. He was free from Louisville and free from praise. He was entering the 2014 NFL Draft, where he would quickly be imprisoned in criticism about the same skills that everyone went nuts over a few months ago. Questions arose about his touch, his mobility, his stats. If the college football season wasn't long enough to study Bridgewater, the draft season would be. It spans five months, equally as long as the season but perhaps one month too many.
As media scouts and personnel men laid the critiquing groundwork, I looked back at the game I went to. It was against the University of South Florida, who play in Raymond James Stadium.
Before the bloodshed began, each team's players jogged onto the dark green grass. Bridgewater came to the middle of the field and knelt down to tie his shoe at the 27-yard line, where everyone and everything revolved around him for a moment. Then he got up and walked to the left sideline and slowly pulled a black glove over his nine and a quarter-inch right hand.
He oozed with confidence on the first drive after kickoff. No hesitation in his decisions. Pinpoint accuracy. Quick reads that progressed downfield.
On the drive's final play, he faced first-and-10 from the far right hash with 20 yards 'til six. He crouched, bending his knees and straightening his arms underneath the center as his head craned left. He tapped his left foot to call for a motion across the formation by the second tight end, who tapped Bridgewater's rear to signal he loped by. He took a gander to his right and then back to the middle.
He casually dropped back three steps. His legs moved in slow motion and his shoulders didn't move at all. Only his head, encapsulated in the white helmet, moved. It moved with his eyes, which lasered right then left. Nonchalantly, he bounced and leaned on his back foot, turning his shoulders and then flicking his left wrist before flicking his right. The ball planed over the defense, hit maximum altitude. Before it could land in between the endzone boundary and wide receiver Damian Copeland, Bridgewater turned his back to the play and walked away (:45).
Seems to lack touch ...
Less than five minutes into the first quarter, I knew the drive was worth it. Bridgewater showed top skills, and what many described as quiet confidence wasn't as quiet as thought. He carried himself like he knew what he was doing because, well, he does. He knew what he wanted from the defense and who he would throw the ball to. He knew which throws would be good.
A quarter later he showed it. It was third-and-5 from the 17, and Bridgewater leaned forward in the bastardized shotgun known as pistol. He had a tailback a couple yards behind him and four receivers evenly distributed to each side. He double-handed the snap and sped up his three-step drop, avoiding the edge-rusher to his right as he slid forward and read the field. His two slot receivers ran vertically, running the Cover 2 linebackers downfield with them and creating a crater in between the hashes. There, the tailback popped up after leaking from the backfield and turned to Bridgewater with his hands up, begging for the ball. Bridgewater looked and swiftly threw, dumping the ball off to his chain-moving outlet.
Passing stats are padded ...
The throw was dumped off, and as a result, Bridgewater's stats were padded by the ball-carrier's yards after the catch. That is true. But a closer examination reveals that the underneath middle in Cover 2 was a liability, and quarterbacks are taught to throw to their running backs against zone coverage because they'll have a speed advantage against the linebacker. In this case, Bridgewater did exactly what he was supposed to, as he frequently does. He can beat defenses with his arm, his legs, and his mind.
Mobility has surfaced as an integral skill to have at the quarterback position. With offenses implementing option plays to run away from fast defenses, many teams are seeking more than just the traditional passer. They want someone who can manipulate the pocket and move the ball in multiple ways. As Bridgewater showed against USF (and any other game one wishes to study), he can do the above well enough.
On second-and-17, Bridgewater leaned on his right foot in plain shotgun set with the tailback offset to his left. Two receivers were also to his right and one to his left stood as well. The goal was to set up a functional third down that didn't require a vanilla play-call like a draw or screen.
He took a quick three-step drop again and looked at the middle of the defense. He stood and scanned, failing to find an open receiver, but instead finding room to move. A defensive tackle crossed his face from right to left, leaving an alley for Bridgewater to squeeze the ball with his right hand and run. He kept looking forward, seeking an open receiver. Barreling down was a linebacker, who he avoided when he threw the ball from the left hash back to the middle of the field to the single receiver running a crossing route.
Doesn't have elite mobility ...
What is "eilte mobility" anyway? Because he doesn't run a blazing 40-yard dash, Bridgewater doesn't have elite mobility. He has the ability to escape the pass-rush and think quickly on his feet. Michael Vick has elite mobility – how's that going?
Teddy Bridgewater has shown that he has the touch, intelligence, and mobility to operate at a high-level in college. He'll show that he can in the pros too.
After five months of intense study, many have poked at him enough to knock him from the top pick, if not the first-round. If scouts feel the same, they'll be as sorry as USF was in October.
Feature photo courtesy of Andrew Weber / USA Today