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Teddy Bridgewater tops Vikings' reasons to be confident about 2015

Teddy Bridgewater tops Vikings' reasons to be confident about 2015
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater scrambles and throws a complete pass during the first quarter of the 2015 NFL Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 9. (Brian Peterson / TNS)

Teddy Bridgewater was at Adrian Peterson's 30th birthday party in March, when the running back made a grand entrance riding a camel, not knowing whether the Vikings would enter the season with the prolific rusher.

"I was praying it would work out," said Bridgewater, the quarterback who started 12 games as a rookie. "We could have benefitted a lot having him last year, especially me."

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Coach Mike Zimmer oscillated between hopeful and confident Peterson would return after missing 15 games while on the commissioner's exempt list dealing with child abuse allegations.

"I was fairly confident but more hopeful," Zimmer said. "You never really know how things are going to unfold."

When the draft came and went and the Vikings didn't choose a running back, it was evident they were plotting a future with Peterson, only three years removed from a 2,097-yard season, 8 yards shy of the NFL record.

That's because the man in power, general manager Rick Spielman, never doubted. Not when agent Ben Dogra pushed for a trade in a very public fashion. Not when rumors about Peterson replacing DeMarco Murray in Dallas escalated.

"We were pretty steadfast," Spielman said.

Peterson was going to wear purple and gold in 2015, or he wasn't going to play, period.

With the team's best player healthy, happy and secure with a new contract, the Vikings are a popular pick to be a breakout team as they set out to improve upon the 7-9 record Zimmer posted in his first season. The defense made expected strides under Zimmer in Year 1 and should continue to improve. The receiving corps has gone from a question to a strength.

The Vikings will go as far as Bridgewater, 22, will take them, and that is exactly why they are bubbling with confidence.

Part of it stems from the way he played down the stretch. Bridgewater completed 72.1 percent of his passes in the final five games, averaging 8.8 yards per attempt with eight touchdowns and five interceptions. He played like a veteran and was quickly diagnosing coverages while handling pressure behind a leaky line.

His emergence coincided with the development of wide receiver Charles Johnson, who caught 31 passes for 475 yards (15.3 average) and is now being counted on as a starter and big-time contributor.

With deep threat Mike Wallace added to the mix, tight end Kyle Rudolph finally healthy and left tackle Matt Kalil over knee issues that dogged him the last two seasons, signs are pointing up.

"Everyone can tell you how well you played last year, how good you guys might be this year, but we know there are no pen-and-paper champions in August," Bridgewater said.

The Vikings are working with Bridgewater on having him deliver the ball quicker, not only to improve his protection, but also to put the ball in the hands of playmakers sooner and increase their chances of yards after the catch. Football Outsiders ranked the Vikings 27th in adjusted sack rating last season.

"He got a lot of adversity early, and I have been with young guys and that was too much for them and it really set them back and took them a while to recover," offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. "Teddy thrived on it.

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"He kept working harder and getting better, and then when we got better around him, he started playing with confidence. And probably the best thing about him was, under duress a lot of the time, he showed great accuracy."

Turner disputes the notion Bridgewater's arm strength will hold him back. Everything is moving faster for the offense in training camp, and naturally Turner will look to add to the playbook. What's obvious is Bridgewater is in a better place having played last season without Peterson, who will once again be the focal point of defenses.

"It accelerated Teddy's progress," Spielman said. "He was our offense last year. There was a lot thrown on him, and then when he took off those last five games, he had a better understanding.

"The one thing that really struck me when I talked to a couple of the vets, the one thing that he brings (is) his demeanor. No matter if we were doing really well or we had something really bad happen, when he came into the huddle, he calmed everyone down."

Asked who the leaders of the team are, Bridgewater rattled off the names of key veterans such as linebacker Chad Greenway, defensive end Brian Robison and Peterson. He also mentioned himself, and Zimmer said it was the quarterback's team last season.

"It's good to have Teddy and a lot of young guys with a year under their belt in the offense," Peterson said. "I see nothing but good things happening."

Twitter @BradBiggs

The Vikings

2014: 7-9, third in the NFC North.

Key newcomers: WR Mike Wallace, CB Terence Newman, CB Trae Waynes, LB Eric Kendricks, DE Danielle Hunter, OT T.J. Clemmings.

Key losses: WR Greg Jennings, LB Jasper Brinkley, G Charlie Johnson, QB Matt Cassel, DL Corey Wootton, FB Jerome Felton.

Camp star: The Vikings pushed to sign Wallace in free agency two years ago, when he signed with the Dolphins, and they finally got their man via a trade in March. The 29-year-old is with his third team in four seasons but has the elite speed necessary to take the top off a defense. With former first-round pick Cordarrelle Patterson struggling to fit in (coaches and front-office folks insist he's working hard), the Vikings need a speed threat to conflict defenses. Wallace has looked the part, and that makes the offense more complete.

On the hot seat: Club officials remain confident left tackle Matt Kalil, 26, will return to the form he displayed shortly after they selected him fourth overall in 2012. He had a terrific season when Peterson ran for 2,097 yards but regressed in 2013 and struggled a year ago. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on both knees this offseason and also had alternative treatment. The Vikings picked up the fifth-year option in Kalil's contract but will bail on him if he's not back to form protecting Bridgewater's blindside.

Camp sightings: Second-round pick Kendricks, the Butkus Award winner from UCLA, looks like he will win the middle linebacker job and fit into the nickel package. ... Fifth-round pick Stefon Diggs has turned heads, and the wide receiver's emergence could prompt the club to make veteran punt returner Marcus Sherels available via trade. ... This marks the team's 50th summer training in Mankato. Only the Packers at St. Norbert College (58 years) have been in one place longer for camp. The Vikings announced a three-year extension with Minnesota State-Mankato on Wednesday.

Three dates

Opener: Sept. 14 at 49ers, 8:20 p.m., ESPN

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Against the Bears: Nov. 1 at Soldier Field, noon, Fox-32; Dec.20 at TCF Bank Stadium, noon, Fox-32

Odds

To win the North: 7-1

To win the NFC: 25-1

To win it all: 50-1

— Brad Biggs

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