Reader Advisory: This series is an experiment. The takes within are not anything that I’m willing to stand behind as enhancing or detracting from the “draft value” of the players I am profiling here. I developed this series to illustrate the subjectivity of a player interview. There will be plenty of armchair psychology and body language analysis interlaced with opinions based on my experiences as a manager, a journalist, and a student of football. Learn about the actual personality assessment that two-thirds of the NFL has on Bridgewater.
I have always thought Jon Gruden was sneaky-good at interviewing NFL prospects. The former coach is intelligent, he’s well-prepared, and he understands how to frame conversations that elicit information without attacking the player–even when delivering criticism. There’s a playfulness on the surface that belies the seriousness of Gruden’s points.
I repeat, this is an experiment and a series I’m writing because I’m curious what I’d see if I studied an interview as if I studied a game. There’s no weight I’m placing on this analysis. The intent is to show the variety of ways different observers can interpret the same interview.
I don’t agree with all the takes I’m positing. I will say that after studying three of these QB Camp shows, there are potential observations that are similar to observations I’ve seen others believe were valid points during job or field interviews as a writer.
Some of these insights may hit the mark–maybe even touch upon something deeper into the player’s personality. However, these takeaways may also be a reflection of a player’s nerves and insecurity about appearing on national television on the eve of the most important job selection process of his life to date.
I know that I’d be nervous about having my game dissected by a top expert in the field on national television. There are extraordinarily few people who wouldn’t feel this pressure and react with a measure of insecurity on some level.
I’m not telling you which of these takes I believe have actual merit. These interviews are first impressions of a player’s personality away from the field. If I was a manager for a team’s front office, I’d want our organization to spend more time with the player to determine if a variety of co-workers had similar impressions.
For the last time, these are hypothetical takes of one interview and these observations have no factor in my evaluation of the player as found in the RSP. As with every interview I’m studying in this series I watched it at least twice–often 3-4 times–to gather quotes and study the interaction between Gruden and his interview subject.
The first interview I analyzed was Tajh Boyd’s. A lot of his responses and body language indicated a player projecting confidence, but also some defensiveness and insecurity about his standing in this draft. He also appeared unwilling to reveal flaws in his game. Teddy Bridgewater also possesses some defensive body language in this interview. However, there’s a tell in Bridgewater’s body language and eye behavior that indicates a far different set of things happening between him and Gruden.
“As a quarterback, I’m just saying that I am the eye of the hurricane,” says Bridgewater during the introduction of the show. “I’m smart with the football–38 touchdowns-4 interceptions. I was able to master the college game. And I feel that me being a student of the game, I’m most eager to learn.”
Gruden gives his introductory take of Bridgewater before the interview. Because his brother Jay played quarterback at Louisville, the coach’s impressions of Teddy Bridgewater were based on what he thought of the Louisville football program.
“This is a basketball school and for him to transform it into a football school for the three years that he was there . . . it excited me. I wanted to find out how he did it.”
A Polarizing Start
The Louisville QB begins the conversation with his elbows on the table and his fingers interwoven. This can be interpreted as a sign of anxiety. The rest of Bridgewater’s body language appears calm enough that the interwoven hand position is a protective-defensive gesture.
When asked about the recruiting process and why he chose Louisville after originally committing to Miami, Bridgewater maintains his hand position while telling the story. The QB describes Randy Shannon getting fired at Miami changed his mind about the program because he wanted to go somewhere there would be stability.
As he tells this story, Bridgewater’s eyes move to his left a couple of times–often a sign of recalling facts. When he talk about stability, Bridgewater punctuates the statement with a quick raise of his eyebrows. This is a sign of emphasizing or acknowledging a point.
Bridgewater also raises his shoulders for punched emphasis two different times as he explains that this story summed up his recruiting process. This too is a non-verbal accent of what he’s saying to hammer home emphasis.
“I heard when you went to Louisville–it was cold,” says Gruden. “I heard you got homesick . . . ”
“Nah,” interjects Bridgewater, shaking his head.
“There was a time where you were ready to leave Louisville,” Gruden continues, “Is that true?”
“Nah, there was a time that I was ready to go home. My freshman year,” explains Bridgewater, his fingers still interlaced while he raises his eyebrows twice to emphasize what he’s saying. “I wasn’t starting. Things weren’t going the way that I wanted them to go. I wanted to go home and just give up on football.”
At the end of this last sentence, Bridgewater does something that he’ll do through much of the interview: He pokes his tongue from his mouth as if he’s licking his lips and squints his eyes. This is often regarded as an expression of extreme disapproval.
Combine these two things with Bridgewater’s eyes moving right and downward before saying, “I wanted to go home and just give up on football,” and the body language indicates that Bridgewater is recalling his feelings at the time he was thinking about leaving the game behind. His reaction is as if the memory left a nasty taste. One could determine that Bridgewater was disgusted with the idea of quitting football now that he looks back on it.
Bridgewater talks about meeting with the team chaplain and buying into that individual’s wisdom and the coaches’ wisdom. As he tells the story, he again looks to his right and down–a sign that he’s sharing feelings that he had about that experience. Bridgewater ends with another shoulder raise as he says, “everything worked out for me.”
Some could read into the entirety of this response and decide that despite the fact that Bridgewater contemplated leaving the team, the idea of actually following through went against everything he wanted to do.
The actual admission that Bridgewater considered quitting football could be a polarizing one.
Some may say that if Bridgewater even considered quitting that he truly doesn’t love football the way they want a prospect to love it. Others might say that he’s emotionally soft and if he doesn’t get his way, he will threaten to take his ball and go home.
In contrast, some may see that Bridgewater’s actual decision to stay combined with his body language while telling the story indicates that the quarterback loves football or at the very least hates giving up on anything.
Others may see this statement’s candor and see a great deal of confidence from Bridgewater to admit he felt this way. They may see that Bridgewater is willing to show some vulnerability and weakness and share how he’s grown up as a teen moving into early adulthood.
These observers may believe Bridgewater’s exchange with Gruden is an indication that he’s strong enough to handle everything swirling around him–much like the eye of a hurricane he describes himself to be at the beginning of the segment.
Lemons Into Lemonade
The next segment features Bridgewater’s first pass, which is a deep route for an interception–an awful throw. Gruden asks if Bridgewater remembers it.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” responds Bridgewater, whose smile includes his eyes–a sign it’s a genuine smile. Bridgewater’s hands are still at the table with the fingers interlaced. There’s a pattern of behavior in this show where Bridgewater seems to show comfort with unpleasant events. One might examine his reactions to these events and determine he revels in the fact that he was strong enough to overcome them.
Gruden queues the Kentucky game the following week and sets up his question by describing how the young Bridgewater came off the bench and had a big game. Gruden shows pro-caliber throws that remind the coach of Drew Brees. He shows Charlie Strong’s excitement after a touchdown. And he has a clip of Bridgewater celebrating with his coach.
“Is Strong saying, ‘You’re my guy now?” asks Gruden.
“I said, ‘I told you, coach,'” says Bridgewater, who peppers this sequence with intermittent laughter.
There are a lot of notable stories about quarterbacks sharing confidence to their coaches or superiors. Tom Brady thanked Robert Kraft for picking him and that it would be the best pick he ever made. Peyton Manning told Bill Polian in a pre-draft interview that if the Colts didn’t pick him, that Manning would kick Indy’s ass for the duration of his career.
Gruden told Tajh Boyd a story about Russell Wilson as a rookie starter. When the Seahawks were down, he walked up to Pete Carroll and according to the Seattle coach, said that he was excited about the opportunity to be down by 14 and take the game back. Carroll thought Wilson was crazy in the best sense.
Bridgewater’s “I told you, coach,” might not be up there as bold statements, but some teams may recognize it as confidence in that same category.
Still Waters Run Deep
One criticism of Bridgewater by some anonymous NFL people is that the quarterback was a dud during interviews. At least one executive spoke anonymously to a reporter to question the quarterback’s leadership. Based on his body language, there is some indication that Bridgewater is a passionate individual who, in a public setting off the field, keeps his feelings below the surface.
Bridgewater’s responses earlier in the show where often accompanied by eye movements that indicate he was accessing feelings as he recalled events. The next line of questions reveal the same tendency, but how to interpret it is more difficult.
Gruden asks Bridgewater why he left a year early when everyone loved him at Louisville.
“I had a plan when I was being recruited,” says Bridgewater, dropping his eyes downward and to his right to access his feelings while telling the rest of the story. “I had a plan when I was being recruited. My plan was to get my degree in three years. I told every school that recruited me, ‘Listen, I’m on a three-year plan,’ and I have always been purpose driven my entire life. That played a huge factor, I was able to get my degree–in sports administration–and the rest was history.”
What adds a layer of complexity to this story is the eye movement in combination with Bridgewater poking his tongue from his mouth twice during his explanation. It could be a sign that Bridgewater didn’t like the question. However, he didn’t poke the tongue upon hearing the question; the first time he did it was in the middle of his answer.
There is a possibility that Bridgewater was remembering something distasteful about the recruiting process as he was recalling events. Remember, the eye movement downward and to the right is about recalling feelings associated with events. The memory Bridgewater is retelling is what he told college recruiters and before he tells Gruden what he told recruiters, his tongue pokes from his mouth (often a symbol of disgust, distaste, or rejecting something–in this case something he remembers that he might not be sharing fully) when he says, “Listen, I’m on a three-year plan.”
We all have read enough about the recruiting process to understand how this can be a distasteful process. Perhaps Bridgewater is also remembering the reactions of recruiters when he said he was on a three-year plan and didn’t like what they said.
It’s also possible that Bridgewater doesn’t like Gruden’s question in the first place. The young quarterback may feel he’s ready for the next step and he has his degree, so why ask the question. Charlie Strong is gone and Bobby Petrino has returned–new coach, new offense, and new scrutiny based on one year of a lot of changes. The idea of staying in school for all of that has a mighty distasteful element for any college quarterback who has more to lose than gain in the NFL evaluation process.
The second tongue poke is also curious because it comes after Bridgewater says he graduated with a degree in sports administration. Maybe Bridgewater doesn’t like the degree that he earned.
Considering the schedule a player has to undertake while balancing football and academics, the quarterback might have wished he could have studied something else. Robert Smith’s story as well as the recent feature on college bag men, supports the notion that athletic programs steer players towards certain degrees because it’s convenient for the team.
It could also mean that Bridgewater doesn’t value the college degree that much at this point in his life. He’s about to go pro. Maybe he got the degree for his mom. It’s also possible that he was recalling the work he had to do in order to finish the degree in three years and it elicited memories he didn’t like.
The tongue comes out during another question where one might not expect it: When Gruden cues a video of Louisville sports icons Tom Jackson and Muhammad Ali before a Cardinals game and Ali is wearing Bridgewater’s jersey.
“What was it like to see Ali in your jersey?”
As Bridgewater responds, his eyes move down and to his left. This is an indication of a person recalling facts as well as outside stimuli like sights and sounds of the event. As Bridgewater does this, he begins to tell about what it was like on the field that night before the game.
The quarterback then sticks his tongue out after saying how meaningful it was to him to see Ali in his jersey. Is he lying? Some might say the tongue poke reveals there’s a layer to this story that he’s not sharing.
Bridgewater’s tongue poke could be a betrayal of his concluding statement, “it was one of the most happy days of my life.” Remember, football players learn early on that when they speak to the media that he has to respond with platitudes.
It’s possible Bridgewater finds giving platitudes distasteful–even if he understands how positive it is to see “the Greatest” wearing his jersey. Bridgewater’s genuine smile complements this track of analysis.
A response about Ali has nothing to do with quarterbacking. However, it may indicate that Bridgewater feels deeply, isn’t sharing everything that he remembers and felt about these events, and some of those memories aren’t pleasant. It may also indicate that Bridgewater doesn’t like Gruden’s questions. If he had his way, perhaps he’d only talk about the actual game of football.
If any of these insights are accurate, the fact that Bridgewater is pleasant, selective, and appropriate with his answers could be seen as a positive. It reveals a level of maturity and understanding of what’s right to share with the media.
Of course, all of this about a tongue poking out could be the fact that Bridgewater’s lips are dry, his mouth is dry, or it’s some odd habit he’s had all his life.
The Gloves Come Off
We see more of this behavior from Bridgewater when Gruden broached the quarterback’s pro day preparation. At this point, Bridgewater unclasped his fingers, grabs a pen and begins this response with his forearms and hands on the table.
Holding an object as well as the position of his forearms is an indication of a protective posture. Like Tajh Boyd, the way Bridgewater is sitting could be interpreted as a person steeling himself to address something he feels uncomfortable about.
Unlike Boyd, Bridgewater’s response appears more forthcoming than many of the Clemson quarterback’s answers. As Bridgewater tells the story of when he first began wearing the gloves, nothing in his body language or words were notable during his very straightforward explanation.
Then Gruden mentions the pro day and points out Bridgewater isn’t wearing gloves. At this point, Bridgewater’s tongue pokes out.
It could be habit. It could be the Bridgewater has been anticipating this subject to come up and now that it has he’s expressing his subconscious dislike of it.
Bridgewater talks about going back to Florida to train and the weather and his eye move down and to the right–accessing feelings associated with being there. His eyes move in that direction again as he recalls his high school days when he didn’t ear a glove.
Immediately after saying the word “glove,” the tongue comes out. A pretty obvious indication that he doesn’t like this glove subject. As he tells the story, his hands remain in this protective position, but nothing about his eyes, face, head, or body position indicate that he’s hiding anything and this is consistent with him taking responsibility for what happened on his pro day.
From this standpoint, it’s possible that Bridgewater’s tongue poking in this retelling of the story is a sign that he is angry with himself for not keeping his gloves on. This is something that could be supported by him subsequently telling Gruden, “I’m one of those guys that trusts preparation and gains confidence the more that I prepare.”
“I learned a valuable lesson that day,” says Bridgewater about his pro day. He looks down and to his right–recounting how he felt about that moment. Then he looks straight at Gruden and follows with a response that show accountability. “I had a few balls that got away from me that day.”
Bridgewater squints once as he makes this statement–another potential sign that he was disappointed with himself as he recounts the event.
“Like I said, I was able to walk away from the event and learn: ‘Just do what got you there,'” he says with genuine smile while nodding his head and raising his eyebrows at Gruden as he talked about how he should have worn the gloves if that’s a normal part of his routine. He sticks his tongue out after saying, “If you’re comfortable with the gloves, wear the gloves.”
The body language and his words during this explanation of his pro day suggest a number of possibilities that could all be true:
- Bridgewater truly learned a lesson and he still has some lingering disgust about his pro day performance.
- He’s disgusted with the scrutiny over a few poor passes and rejects the idea that he had a bad pro day.
- He thinks the whole discussion of the gloves/no gloves is overblown.
“Do you have thick skin?” asks Gruden.
Bridgewater sticks his tongue out, lowers his head, and looks up as he responds, “Yes sir.”
The body signals indicate rejection of something. He could be rejecting the notion that anyone would even question his ability to handle this kind of scrutiny. Or he could be thinking of the questions people have of his ability and rejecting that notion. He could also be indicating that the criticism bothers him and he doesn’t agree with it.
When Gruden imitates Mel Kiper dissecting a bad slant, out comes Bridgewater’s tongue.
“I can’t control what people say about me,” says Bridgewater as he tilts his head to the side, which is often an indication of someone about to reveal something that’s vulnerable and truthful. It’s a sign that Bridgewater trusts Gruden or trusts in the traits he possesses as a football player and is about to share. “I can control my work ethic, my study habits, and the way I communicate with teammates.”
When asked again if he has thick skin, Bridgewater gives a very straightforward “yes sir,” while nodding quick enough that it’s not likely a faked agreement signal. Slow nodding is often a mechanical affectation to simulate agreement.
Bridgewater’s responses to the most difficult line of questions he’ll get in this interview demonstrate accountability in a situation that doesn’t feel good to him, honesty about the basic facts, deeper feelings of disgust that he’s not completely sharing, and potential rejection of the notion that the events reveal something negative about his overall potential.
Some may say this is a reflection of inner confidence because unlike Tajh Boyd, Bridgewater isn’t comparing himself to anyone and the rejection of the criticism isn’t verbal. He’s not changing the subject, he’s not avoiding the issue, and he’s answering the questions head-on with specifics. But he’s demonstrating a subtle rejection of the criticisms as he addresses them.
The Easy Part: The Film
Gruden introduces the next segment with an overall positive take of Bridgewater’s film. The coach says he liked watching Bridgewater at Louisville because the quarterback ran a similar offense that Gruden ran as a pro coach and that knowledge will make Bridgewater a quick study.
The coach begins the segment with a voi dire of Bridgewater’s knowledge of west coast concepts in the Louisville offense then he asks the QB if he liked playing in the system.
“Oh I loved it,” answers Bridgewater who talks about the freedom he had in it. “So much in the quarterbacks hands to make decisions at the line of scrimmage, know each guys’ routes, and know the offense in and out.”
The rest of the segment is spent at the white board. Gruden has Bridgewater explain his understanding off the offensive concepts. Gruden asks Bridgewater why the quarterback made certain reads and as Bridgewater gives his explanations, Gruden nods in agreement.
There’s a lot of praise coming from Gruden when it comes to Bridgewater demonstrating an understanding of what defenses do to defend the routes and how Bridgewater would counter these tendencies. Multiple fist bumps and multiple verbal praises in this segment.
After the on-field segment, the episode flashes back to the film room and the subject returns to toughness–this time on-field toughness.
“What kind of leader are you?” asks Gruden.
“When I was younger–a freshman and a sophomore–I kind of lead by example. But as I got older, I understood that it took more. It took more than just going out there and executing. You have to be that coach on the field,” says Bridgewater as Gruden looks ahead but with his eyes turned to the right (often an indicator that the person doing this is imagining as he’s listening). “Someone who motivates guys. Tells them when they’re having a bad day, ‘C’mon guys, let’s pick it up.’ Talks to the offensive line and tells them to give me two more seconds.”
The notion that Gruden was imagining an event has some merit. Gruden follows this response with a film example of the Connecticut game when Bridgewater’s receivers drop multiple passes. Gruden clicks to a scene at the sideline where Bridgewater is talking to his teammates.
Gruden later asks if Bridgewater ever yelled at his teammates.
The quarterback describes a practice during his sophomore year where he did so and explains how it shocked his teammates–the tongue making an appearance again accompanied with a squint. This could indicate a certain amount of intensity Bridgewater is experiencing from recalling this moment.
The tongue poke might indicate that he finds the yelling distasteful and it’s not his style. It’s not as if he said, “yeah, I yell at them all the time.”
The fact that he’s not quick to get onto teammates could be perceived as a positive or negative. Some teams might want more intensity. Others might like the fact that he can get his points across without yelling, but will do so if he needs to–even if he finds it distasteful.
Gruden doesn’t question this further. Het sums up the lesson in a question that’s phrased as if Bridgewater clearly knows the answer.
“Sometimes you just have to take control of the whole team, don’t you?”
In the Boyd episode–Gruden was telling Boyd certain lessons. Not once did he tell Bridgewater to write anything down–although the quarterback did. In contrast, Gruden told Boyd and Johnny Manziel to write things down.
The coach even asked Boyd to promise to focus on certain things. None of that happened with Bridgewater.
“On the toughness meter how tough is Teddy Bridgewater?” asks Gruden after he and Bridgewater watch a highlight package of the Louisville QB’s sacks.
“I’m off the charts,” responds Bridgewater without missing a beat and a smile on his face that includes his eyes–an addition indicator of a truthful smile. If this is any indication, Bridgewater knows he’s tough like he knows he’s breathing.
“You’ve got a lot poise and a lot of toughness playing this game,” says Gruden, staring into the QB’s eyes.
The coach walks Bridgewater through the Rutgers game–a contest where the quarterback comes off the bench with a high ankle sprain and broken wrist to lead Louisville to a BCS Sugar Bowl. The entire time, there’s nothing but a relaxed vibe that includes jokes and laughter between both coach and QB.
Then Gruden jumps to the Florida game in the Sugar Bowl where Bridgewater gets smacked by Jon Bostic on the first pass. Bridgewater tells Gruden it’s the hardest hit he ever felt and says it with that same smile where the eyes are a part of the smile. He even laughs about it pointing out the scar that he got on his chin from the hit.
“Then [Bostic] got up dancing after hitting me in the forehead…I was pissed about that,” says Bridgewater before poking the tongue out. He then squints as he says, “It added fuel to the fire.”
“What is it about you?” says Gruden.
Bridgewater’s eyes light up with his smile.
“I’m just tough. I’m a different breed. I’m a rare breed. My kind is becoming extinct. My background has made me what I am today,” says Bridgewater, now squinting as he talks about his background. “It has made me physically and mentally tough. Nothing bothers me [biting his tongue for a moment–an indication that might not be true]. You can set my hair on fire, I’m still going to go. I’m just one of those guys”
One might look at this statement and see the tongue-biting as if he’s not sure he should say what he says next, but decides to anyhow. It could also mean that Bridgewater is bothered by things–which is certainly an indication throughout this interview–bothered deeply by them. Even so, it appears he handles these things head-on and appropriately, which is really all one can ask from a mature human being.
Bridgewater comes off as a person in touch and in control of his emotions even if there are indications that he has deep emotions that he doesn’t want to share. His behavior during the interview could be an indication that he’s had a fair number of events that he associates with intense feelings–some of them unpleasant.
There is also some indication that he has a deep belief in his toughness and ability to overcome adversity. A lot of these rejection signals with the tongue could be a reflection of an inner monologue that says something like, “None of this matters, I’ll overcome anything you throw at me.”
At the same time, some may look at Bridgewater thinking about quitting as a freshman as believe he doesn’t love football or he doesn’t respond well to adversity. The take depends on how open these people are to allowing a young man to mature and learn lessons.
For actual analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2014 Rookie Scouting Portfolio – available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2014 RSPs at no additional charge and available for download within a week after the NFL Draft. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.