LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- This was not the Teddy Bridgewater who was battered and bruised after the University of Louisville's last football game, a 31-24 Belk Bowl loss to N.C. State in which Bridgewater was sacked five times and pounded a number of others.
The Bridgewater who took the field for U of L's first day of practice Friday afternoon was 222 pounds, about 25 heavier than the one who finished last season.
But the sophomore didn't just add weight. He spent the summer bulking up mentally. Shawn Watson, offensive coordinator, will tell you the playbook didn't open very far as the true freshmen learned his way under fire last season.
Bridgewater spent the summer not just learning U of L's playbook, but offensive and defensive football itself, from the ground up, teaming with junior QB Will Stein to study videos and notes put together by Watson. They studied defense first, then offense, then U of L's offense specifically. They looked at their own play. On a DVD, they could look at every drop back for every pass they made last season, in a dazzling array of sequences, including grouped by play call. (Read more about their summer work here.)
Here's how Watson knew Bridgewater was starting to get it. In the spring, Watson would tell Bridgewater what he did wrong on a given play from the season and see resistance in the young QB's eyes. He wasn't quite believing it. By June, Watson said, Bridgewater was coming to him saying, "I can't believe I did that. That's not going to happen this season."
On Friday, a couple thousand U of L fans got to see the 2.0 version of Bridgewater, bigger and, by all appearances, better. His throws were more authoritative, with more zip. He went to the line and made checks in drills with confidence.
"It was fun to see Teddy directing the offense," U of L coach Charlie Strong said. ". . . Teddy is still developing. He got bigger. He got stronger. But now he understands the offense and knows the offense. And by him this summer becoming a student of the game, now he's going to be a better player. "
The physical change is the first and most noticeable for Bridgewater. In all, he says he's put on about 40 pounds from the day he arrived on campus.
"I can feel it, a lot, with the way I throw the ball," he said. "I can throw with more velocity, more power. I can throw the ball farther, things like that."
Less visible on first glance, but maybe more important, is his grasp on what he's doing. He's not just large, but in charge.
"Last year, you know, I was learning, so sometimes I'd lock into one receiver," Bridgewater said. "But now, just understanding the concepts, understanding why we run this play, and where this guy will be at the end of his route, it's a big difference."
Preston Brown, middle linebacker, has as good a view of Bridgewater as anyone on the practice field. He said the sophomore's presence on the field is growing.
"He's just more of a leader of the offense," Brown said. "When he says something they listen to everything he says. So you can just see the difference. He's changing plays at the line and everything. He's got a better control of the offense right now."
Bridgewater never lacked for self-confidence. He seems to be a quietly charismatic guy who is liked and respected by his teammates. But coaches have been expressing concern throughout the offseason over who will step into a leadership role on this team.
When asked that question, Bridgewater had no hesitation in saying, "Well, of course I'll lead. The quarterback, leadership comes with the position. All eyes are on the quarterback the majority of the time. I just need to step up and be a leader, a vocal leader."
Less important -- actually, not important at all -- is who will be the "face" of the program. Strong has handed out that label in past years, but almost did it as a way of drawing players out of their shells and letting them know how important they were in the scheme of the season.
There seems little need to do that with Bridgewater, but still the question persists, if only as a storyline for the media, though having a "face" is hardly a prerequisite for being a championship team.
Brown, when asked Thursday who the "face" of the program would be, said, "I have to say Teddy, obviously, because he's worked so hard. You can tell."
Bridgewater said, "I would love the (face of the program) title, but this year we have no face, it's all about the Cardinals. We're all in, we're all in together."
That was Strong's message.
"What I said to Teddy, and I said this to our whole football team last night, it's not so much Teddy Bridgewater, it's the whole football team," Strong said. ". . . We're only going to go as Teddy goes, so the offensive line has to protect, running backs have to run hard, wide receivers have to catch the ball, and our defense is going to have to play well. If we do those things, Teddy is going to have a good season."
By all appearances, he's already had a big offseason, in many ways.
For more U of L practice and football notes, check out the WDRB.com College Football Notebook Saturday morning.
Copyright 2012 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.
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