August 29, 2014

Elyria
Clear
54°F
test

NFL combine: Louisville’s Bridgewater lives football

Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

INDIANAPOLIS — Teddy Bridgewater takes “football junkie” to the next level.

Coaches crave players who can’t get enough of their sport, and the quality is almost mandatory in a quarterback. Cue Bridgewater and his Xbox.

“I eat, sleep and breathe football,” he said this weekend at the scouting combine. “There’s not a moment that goes by that I’m not thinking about football, whether it’s I’m playing a game, practicing, watching film, even on the video game. A lot of
people ask me what do I do on the video game. I call it taking virtual reps.

“Each day, I’m trying to get better. I’m trying to outwork my opponent, outsmart my opponent and just try to be the best quarterback that I can be.”

The University of Louisville product joins Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Central Florida’s Blake Bortles as the top quarterbacks in the draft, according to many analysts. Bridgewater believes he’s the best of the bunch and should be taken No. 1 by the Houston Texans.

“No doubt. I feel that I’m the best quarterback in this draft,” he said. “I’m not just going to sit up here and say it. There’s obviously actions that have to back up these words, and I’m just confident in myself and my capability to be able to play this position. I’m just going to go out there and prove that I’m the best guy.”

The proof will have to wait until his pro day March 17.

Bridgewater didn’t plan to throw Sunday at the combine in front of NFL coaches, scouts and general managers. Then after telling reporters Saturday he was going to run the 40-yard dash, he opted not to Sunday. He did a pair of jumps, leaping 30 inches in the vertical and 9 feet, 5 inches in the broad jump, which tied Manziel for fourth among quarterbacks.

Bridgewater explained his decision not to throw.

“The biggest thing was just me being a perfectionist, and I just want everything to go right,” he said Saturday. “I just want to have that chemistry with the guys. I tend to look at it from a pro standpoint. When you’re throwing in the offseason, you want to be with your guys to have that timing and that connection, so that was the biggest thing.”

Accuracy is a difference-maker in his mind. He completed 64.5 percent as a redshirt freshman, 68.5 percent as a sophomore and 71 percent as a junior in 2013. The touchdowns increased and the interceptions decreased each year, culminating with 31 and four in the fall.

“The biggest thing I think is my accuracy,” he said. “My third-down passing completion percentage was pretty much off the charts, my pocket presence, I’m a competitor. Each day I go out there and I’m eager to learn, remain a student of the game, and I think that right there just separates me.”

Louisville coaches rave about Bridgewater’s intelligence and preparedness. Unlike many college quarterbacks, he was asked to read the whole field, as opposed to half. He was given great responsibility at the line of scrimmage and the latitude to audible.

“It just prepared me for some of the things that an NFL quarterback has to do nowadays with making the checks at the line of scrimmage, sliding the protection, ID-ing the (middle linebacker), getting the offense in and out of the right plays, signaling the hot routes to the wide receivers,” he said. “It shows how much trust that the coach had in me.”

Jacksonville has the No. 3 pick and joins Houston at No. 1 and Cleveland at No. 4 with screaming quarterback needs.

“He’s got really good poise and very good decision-making and very accurate,” Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said of Bridgewater.

“That’s what jumps out.”

The biggest concerns regarding Bridgewater’s ability to succeed in the NFL involve the tangibles. He measured 6-2 1/8 and 214 pounds with 9¼-inch hands.

The height is sufficient, but Bridgewater has to show teams he’s sturdy enough to handle the rigors of the NFL. He was listed at 196 pounds at Louisville and said he finished the season at 205. He’s put on 9 more pounds and hopes to reach 220-225.

He said he was 222 as a sophomore before oral surgery to fix an overbite kept him from eating for two months, and the weight was slow to come back.

“It was a huge focus,” he said of beefing up before the combine. “I’ve been working hard with my eating habits, my weight room lifting and everything.

“I just feel that to play this position you have to have durability, and I just want to prove that I can put on that weight and I am one of those guys who can last a full NFL season.”

There’s no protein shake in the world that can make Bridgewater’s hands bigger. Manziel’s measured 9 7/8, and Bortles’ 9 3/8. Ten inches is considered big for a quarterback.

Bridgewater was asked how he can convince teams his hands are adequate size.

“Well, simply by just completing the football,” he said. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter about your hand size. The only thing that matters is the ball getting completed to wide receivers, and I feel that with my accuracy, my arm strength, my decision-making, the hand size shouldn’t be a factor.”

It isn’t the end-all, be-all, but there’s a reason teams measure. Smaller hands can lead to more fumbles, and controlling the ball in the wet and cold becomes more difficult.

“If you’re going to be quarterback in an area where it is potentially going to be windy or you’re going to get some bad weather in the year, that’s a big priority,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said. “You’re looking for guys that have strong arms that can deal with the wind and can protect the football.”

Bridgewater said he played in the cold with the Cardinals. He wore gloves on both hands for all games and said it helped.
Gloves aren’t necessary for the “virtual reps” of his video game playing. But he takes even that seriously.

“The video games are so advanced nowadays that you see the defenses that you’ll face in real life,” he said. “You’ll see offenses that teams are really running in the National Football League or in college football. You just can apply it to the way I play and I just try to get better each day.

“Football means everything to me. I started playing organized sports when I was about 5 years old, and from the first time I picked up a football, I told myself I want to go to the NFL. I have such a passion for the game that I can’t even describe it.”

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @scottpetrak.