CHARLOTTE — A team's quarterback is a vital piece of its overall puzzle, especially when it comes to leadership. That happens to be one of Teddy Bridgewater's specialties.
Even though Bridgewater had limited opportunities to show that aspect of himself throughout the spring and summer, he already feels ownership you'd want your quarterback to have.
"I credit that to (team owner David) Tepper, Marty, coach Rhule, and the coaching staff here," Bridgewater said Monday. "They've made this transition smooth. They told me from jump, 'Hey, this is your team,' and the guys will go as I go.
"Just being around the guys a couple days already, they're feeding off my energy, and I'm feeding off their energy. So it definitely feels like my team."
The Panthers' brass from the top down may have paved the way, but listening to Bridgewater makes one believe his leadership would have emerged regardless.
"My purpose in life is to lead people," he said. "I take pride in that because I understand that eyes are always on me. Eyes are always on you when you're in a position of leadership."
Bridgewater means that both on and off the field. Having spent four years in Minnesota, he said he contacted the family of George Floyd to lend his support. He wants to use the platform he has as an NFL quarterback to advance causes that mean a lot to him, while also setting an example.
"I don't ever want to be the guy who's the cause of someone going down the wrong path, whether it's social justice or injustice, football, in my community," Bridgewater said. "I understand I have a platform, but at the same time, that platform means nothing if my actions don't follow. So I try to lead with conviction, let my actions speak for themselves, and eventually, people gravitate toward my leadership."
Bridgewater has an authenticity and a secureness that reveals his confidence but doesn't come off as cocky. He had to find that inner peace during his first season as a Saints backup.
"One of the biggest problems I had my first year in New Orleans was I wanted to be like Drew (Brees). I had to do everything Drew did in order to have success like Drew," Bridgewater said. "But eventually, I learned that Drew Brees is Drew Brees. I'm Teddy Bridgewater.
"Cam Newton is Cam Newton. I'm still Teddy Bridgewater. So I can't go out there and try to be something that I'm not. I play the game the way I play it. I carry myself the way I carry myself, and I'm going to live and die by that."
Bridgewater's self-confidence has come through in multiple ways since he signed with the Panthers this spring. In addition to leading some virtual meetings, he put together a three-day workout in Charlotte to solidify what he had learned with his new teammates. And his knowledge of the offense meant Bridgewater could help install offensive coordinator Joe Brady's ideas and language before training camp.
"We put together a brief period where I got the receivers, the running backs, the tight ends, the offensive line even showed up," Bridgewater said. "We just had three days of work, similar to a minicamp at the end of OTAs. It was very beneficial for us."
Bridgewater can command the offense so well because of his familiarity with the scheme, which is clearly advantageous for a free agent quarterback who signed with a new team during a pandemic. While the base offense is similar to the one Bridgewater and Brady worked with in New Orleans, there are some new wrinkles.
"I'm excited about that," Bridgewater said. "Just being familiar with this system has been huge, especially with us not being able to meet in person for OTAs throughout the spring."
In one of his recent social media posts, Bridgewater said there is always an answer in Brady's offense. Expounding on the point Monday, Bridgewater said Brady calls plays to spread the ball around. Even someone who may not be a primary target on a play may end up with the ball. That means each player must be locked in on each snap.
"You design plays for specific guys, but when you're running this offense, as you go through your progression, there's always going to be someone coming into your vision, wherever you start at. There's always going to be an outlet for you," Bridgewater said. "I try to reiterate that to the guys so that everyone is performing their (part of the) play at a high speed."
But more than the scheme, Bridgewater feels comfortable explaining what Brady wants in the offense because of the bond the two developed in New Orleans. As has been well documented, when Bridgewater was traded to the Saints just before the start of the 2018 season, it was Brady who schooled him on the offense.
"We're back reunited, and it's great to see a familiar face," Bridgewater said. "But it's also great to see someone who actually taught me the system, and to be able to actually grow in the system, and continue to run it, and run it the way he sees it."
Each team in the NFC South made a significant move this offseason to improve its offense, whether it was Tom Brady with the Buccaneers, Emmanuel Sanders with the Saints, or Todd Gurley with the Falcons. Bridgewater didn't play the comparison game, though, and instead pointed to the work the Panthers must do to elevate themselves.
"On pen and paper, everyone's crowning themselves as some of the most talented teams in the league and future playoff teams. But it starts with the work that we put in right now, and we can't look too far ahead," Bridgewater said. "Of course, we have some guys on this roster who have done some great things, and I'm excited to be on the same field as those guys. But at the end of the day, we have to execute what we plan on doing here in Carolina, which is running Joe Brady's offense and doing it at a high level."
View photos of Monday's on-field work, where veterans and rookies were together for the first time.