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New Orleans Saints quarterback Teddy Bridgewater taking advantage of his chance to work with the starters

'I'm excited to be able to continue to learn and just have fun being here'

Teddy Bridgewater has been a starting NFL quarterback in the past, and he believes he'll be a starter in the future.

But he isn't at present. Except when he is.

Drew Brees, who'll stroll into the Pro Football Hall of Fame the second he becomes eligible, is the New Orleans Saints' starter. And any time he's on the premises at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center, there isn't any question which quarterback will take the snaps with the No. 1 offense, barring a rest day.

But Brees has been absent the past few workouts – last week's OTAs and Tuesday's opening day of minicamp. And that has given Bridgewater a chance to work with the starters perhaps even more extensively than he did during the final regular-season game of 2018, when he started while Brees rested, as the Saints already had secured the No. 1 seed for the playoffs.

And Bridgewater, who was traded to New Orleans from the Jets during the last week of preseason in 2018, is soaking in every bit of the exposure.

"It's been a great opportunity for me to just spend time with the coaching staff and not have to learn on the fly, like I did last year," he said. "To be able to know and learn the basics of this offense, the foundation, as opposed to learning a new gameplan every week, it's been very exciting to be a part of."

"He's played in the league and he's been in some of these situations," Coach Sean Payton said Tuesday, June 11. "And in fairness to Teddy, there are certain things that you would begin to build around, strength-wise, that I think he's exceptional at.

"He's extremely bright. I think he's got really good arm talent. He's got a demeanor about him that suits the position well, and I think he's a good leader. So the reps he's getting are important not only for him, but for us as a team."

Bridgewater raised his stature among teammates with his ability – and swagger – last season with the scout team. The numbers didn't sparkle in his only start (14 of 22 for 118 yards and a touchdown, with an interception, in a loss to Carolina in the regular-season finale), but by then he'd done enough for the Saints to know they wanted to keep the unrestricted free agent around.

He signed a one-year deal this offseason to remain with New Orleans, eschewing the chance to start with another – possibly, less successful – team.

"This is the best opportunity I felt for me to just grow as a player," he said. "It's a unique opportunity. I'm excited to be able to continue to learn and just have fun being here."

"Opportunity" is a word Bridgewater liberally uses.

After starting his first two NFL seasons – including helping Minnesota win 11 games and advance to the playoffs in his second year – a horrific knee injury in training camp cost him the entire 2016 season and all but one game of 2017. Last year, he came in to finish four games (an incompletion on his only pass attempt) before starting the last game.

So the chance now to work with players who are projected to start, most of whom are seasoned veterans, is the caliber of work Bridgewater likely envisioned when he returned to the Saints.

"It's been a great opportunity getting in with those guys," he said. "When you sit back and watch Drew operate with those guys – and you get that opportunity for yourself – when you operate with Drew it's like a well-oiled machine. That's the standard.

"When you get your opportunity, you just want to go in there and try to pick up right where Drew left off. Of course, none of us here is Drew, but we all have unique skill sets and whenever our opportunity comes to get out there with those guys, we try to make the best of it."

That's what last week was about, and what this week has been about, with Brees not in attendance.

"I'm thankful for this opportunity," Bridgewater said. "When (Brees) gets here, he'll step right in. I'm grateful and I'm thankful for this opportunity that I'm getting right now.

"I feel pretty good. Just going out there and operating, getting in and out of the huddle, establishing tempo, chemistry with the guys up front, the guys out wide catching passes, the guys in the backfield – just being on the page with those guys. It's the spring right now, we have guys coming in and out. It's been a fun opportunity for me to be a coach on the field as well."