Teddy Bridgewater knows all about doubt.
His draft experience was a four-month exercise in institutional doubt.
The Miami native, who played his high school ball at Miami Northwestern, was the most polished quarterback entering the 2014 NFL Draft. But after a disastrous Pro Day, fresh questions emerged about his arm strength.
He was ultimately the third quarterback selected — and with the last pick in the first round, at that.
Turns out, the doubters were wrong. Bridgewater, the Vikings’ starting quarterback, has so far been the best of the bunch.
Bridgewater, who returns to South Florida on Sunday for a homecoming game against the Dolphins, has a passer rating (82.7) that’s not just higher than his peers but better than veteran players like Cam Newton and Brian Hoyer.
When asked this week what caused all those pre-draft whispers, Bridgewater responded:
“I still don’t know to this day. I know that my Pro Day is something that definitely I put in the past. I know that it didn’t make or break me.”
Rather, it motivated him.
“When people have doubt about you, that’s when you can go out and prove them wrong,” Bridgewater added.
He certainly has.
Working with quarterback guru Norv Turner, Bridgewater has had one of the best seasons ever by a first-year Vikings quarterback — which is saying something.
His start Sunday will be the 11th this season, breaking Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton’s rookie record.
Bridgewater has already passed Tarkenton for first on the team’s list for passing yards by a rookie (he has 2,451) and is on pace to do the same for the rookie accuracy record (Bridgewater has completed 63.5 percent of his passes).
Unsolicited, Turner — who is now Minnesota’s offensive coordinator — opened his weekly news briefing with praise for his young quarterback.
Turner said: “I think this is, for a young guy and for a rookie put in the situation he’s been put in in terms of we’ve started eight different offensive linemen, we’ve obviously started three different tight ends, we’ve started three different running backs, played five different running backs, over the last five weeks our leading wide receiver is a guy we signed in late September/early October off the Cleveland Browns practice squad, and you throw a rookie quarterback into that, I’ve seen a bunch of guys really, really have a tough time with that and a bunch of guys that are good players.
“It’s pretty incredible to me what he’s done, how he’s handled it, the things he’s gotten done and what he’s really done is made everyone around him better, and that’s a quality that you’re looking for.”
Most impressively, he has helped keep a Vikings team afloat after losing Adrian Peterson to suspension for the final 15 games of the season. Peterson, one of the best running backs in NFL history, hasn’t played since being accused of abusing his 4-year-old son (he ultimately pleaded down to a lesser charge).
Without Peterson, the Vikings rank just 28th in total offense and 24th in scoring this year. And, yet, they have gone 5-5 in games in which Bridgewater has started.
Has he proven the pre-draft critics wrong?
“I think he has,” said Billy Rolle, who was Bridgewater’s coach at Northwestern. “But he still has a long way to go. I really think that maybe if his running situation was different, it would have got him even better. For a rookie, I think he’s doing pretty good.”
Rolle is part of a small army expected to descend Sunday on Sun Life Stadium, where, remarkably, Bridgewater has never played. Not with the Bulls and not with the Louisville Cardinals.
Bridgewater is a bit wistful about what has become of Northwestern since he has left. National champions in 2007, the Bulls went 5-6 in 2014, losing to Hallandale in the first round of the state playoffs.
“We’re not doing so good right now, but it’s amazing,” Bridgewater said. “It’s like a cycle. Every team has their run for a span of years. I think we’ve had our run, and we’re due for another real soon.”
Temperatures are supposed to be in the low-80s for kickoff Sunday — roughly 50 degrees warmer than it will be in Minneapolis.
Exactly how long did it take to get used to the drastic change in climate?
“It actually didn’t take long at all,” Bridgewater said. “Even though I’m from South Florida, I’ve always been a fan of cold weather. We haven’t really had much bad weather here [this] year. I think I’ll be pretty good.”
But you plan to work out down here in the offseason, right?
“Yeah, I’ll be here,” Bridgewater said — suggesting that he is both talented and wise.