- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Jeremy Bridges used to like nothing better than a party. Three children with his girlfriend and four seasons in the NFL did nothing to change that; at 27 he preferred living the high life.

That began to change in July 2007 when the 6-foot-4, 326-pound Bridges was arrested after pointing a gun at a stripper outside a Charlotte, N.C., club.

Bridges, then a starting offensive lineman with the Carolina Panthers, was suspended by the team for the first two games of the season. He was convicted that November on a misdemeanor assault charge, given a 60-day suspended sentence and ordered to perform community service.

“I was living wrong,” said Bridges, who is trying to make the Washington Redskins after being let go by the Panthers in February. “I was being a knucklehead. I wasn’t doing what I needed to be doing.

“I don’t live that life anymore. My troubled days are over. The only thing that moves me besides football is my family and my friends.”

In the wake of his professed change, Bridges and his girlfriend, Brenda, decided to marry. Bridges, who majored in sports administration at Southern Mississippi, also started planning for life after football with the establishment of a credit solutions company and a property management firm with his wife.

At the same time, Bridges found religion. He had Psalm 118 tattooed on his left arm.

“Everything that happens to you is a test to see if you’ll turn your back on the Lord,” Bridges said. “When I do get in trouble, I feel like I’m not right or my back’s against the wall, I count on him to let me see, comprehend what’s going on.”

That newfound faith was tested when Bridges was arrested again Dec. 7 of last year and charged with assault and battery for reportedly spraying champagne and threatening people in a Charlotte restaurant where he and Brenda were celebrating six months of marriage. The charges were dropped June 1.

“It was a horrible situation,” Bridges said. “It was like, ‘He’s an athlete. We can get a dollar out of him.’ Even if it did happen to a regular Joe, you wouldn’t have seen it on the news. But being an athlete, they put us out there like why we’re such bad guys. I’m not a bad guy. I never have been. I’m probably one of the nicest guys you’ll meet.”

Even though they cut Bridges, a Panthers official agreed with his self-description, calling him “a gregarious, personable guy.”

But there’s no call for nice guys in the NFL trenches, which is where the Redskins needed help after their veteran offensive line wore down as the 2008 season progressed. After the season, the team did not re-sign left guard Pete Kendall, and it cut right tackle Jon Jansen. Left tackle Chris Samuels and right guard Randy Thomas had two offseason surgeries apiece.

So Washington invited Bridges, who had started 39 games at right tackle and both guard spots over the past five years for the Arizona Cardinals and the Panthers, to its early May minicamp on a tryout basis. He showed enough to be offered a one-year contract for the minimum.

“I needed to move on [from Carolina],” Bridges said. “I thank God every day that the Redskins took a chance on me.”

Bridges and Mike Williams, who hasn’t played a snap since 2005 and only plays right tackle, easily are the most proven of Washington’s backups. So even though Bridges struggled early in camp at right tackle and missed last week with a sprained right ankle that kept him out of the preseason opener at Baltimore, he is expected to make the team because of his versatility and experience.

“He’s physically and mentally tough,” offensive line coach Joe Bugel said. “You can’t wear him down, can’t give him enough. I like guys like that.”

Still, when Bridges returned to practice Saturday, he was no longer competing with Williams and holdover Stephon Heyer to start at right tackle. Instead, he’s backing up Samuels, a six-time Pro Bowl pick, meaning he has no chance to start.

“I’m a very competitive guy,” Bridges says. “I’m not a backup. I know that’s been a label through my past couple of years. They say I’m a great backup. I’m a great starter, too.”

• David Elfin can be reached at delfin@washingtontimes.com.

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