NFL

The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Cassel is the bridge to Bridgewater, but Vikings aren't obligated to keep rookie on bench

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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - The Minnesota Vikings brought back veteran Matt Cassel back to be the bridge to the quarterback they were bound to draft this year, and they mapped out the future by trading into the end of the first round to pick Teddy Bridgewater.

Retaining Cassel on a two-year contract has allowed the Vikings the opportunity to be patient with their latest project, but coach Mike Zimmer made clear this week, publicly at least, that the starter won't be determined until training camp. Bridgewater has said he'd be fine being the backup as a rookie. If he took the job right from the beginning of his career, though, that wouldn't be such a surprise.

"I want to give everybody an opportunity and make sure it's a legitimate opportunity for all of them," Zimmer said, including Christian Ponder in that plan.

Cassel has taken most of the turns with the first team offence this spring, but Bridgewater has been in there a lot, too.

"The thing I want to guard against most is rushing into a decision," Zimmer said, adding: "That's really in regards to all of the positions, not just the quarterback position."

Declaring every spot on the team unsettled is one of the purest forms of coach speak, with the motivation of maximum effort always behind such proclamations. When a mid-June minicamp is the setting, though, Zimmer or any other of his peers would be foolish to truly pick a starter prior to the grind of two-a-day practices and preseason games that offer a greater window into ability, fortitude and growth.

"We've got time," Zimmer said.

The Vikings report to training camp July 24.

"That's all you ever ask for, just a chance to compete," Bridgewater said Wednesday. "This coaching staff has done a great job of just allowing all the quarterbacks to just compete over these past six weeks."

The time from the draft to the end of organized off-season practices has been a whirlwind for many a rookie, but Bridgewater hasn't budged in expression of understated confidence in his grasp of the complex, deep playbook being thrown at him. There have been a lot of NFL quarterbacks who didn't translate a command of the offence into success on Sundays when the crowd is loud and the blitz is constantly coming at them, but this is an important first step for Bridgewater.

"It's amazing that I've been able to learn so much in the six weeks that I've been here. I've just been gaining that confidence every day. Just feeling really comfortable right now and knowing that I still have room for improvement and a long way to go to be where I want to be," Bridgewater said, adding: "It hasn't been overwhelming at all."

Footwork has been a primary focus this spring. Recalibrating his anticipation and timing in terms of identifying and targeting open receivers from college to NFL speed has been the biggest challenge, but Bridgewater said he's taught himself how to breathe in a way that slows the action in front of him to a workable pace.

He has tried to take advantage of all opportunities to enhance his development, even using football video games to use as "virtual reps" to further envision the art of dropping into the pocket, scanning the field and releasing the ball.

"He does a great job of picking up the system," Cassel said.

Whether he's bound to be a backup or the starter come September, that's a decision for another day.

"We have enough going on," Cassel said, dismissing the notion of worrying about the depth chart at this point in the year.

"That's where our concentration lies, and if it's on anything else then it's foolish."

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Online:

AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org

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Dave Campbell on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/DaveCampbellAP

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