It’s game week at Winter Park, where the Vikings now have the job of getting a new quarterback up to speed.
After nearly five weeks of chemistry-building with Teddy Bridgewater and a steady offensive installation process, the Vikings have to start from scratch with recently-acquired QB Sam Bradford, who will be exposed to a Norv Turner system for the first time. Even if Bradford isn’t expected to start on Sunday at Tennessee and veteran Shaun Hill gets the nod instead – head coach Mike Zimmer has yet to tip his hand – Bradford will need to have enough understanding to, at minimum, be a backup in case of injury. Minnesota has just two quarterbacks on the active roster as they await the return of Taylor Heinicke.
The new scenery for Bradford is made less foreign by the presence of Pat Shurmur, his former offensive coordinator for one year in St. Louis and one year in Philadelphia. Shurmur, who endured a tumultuous 2015 with Bradford on the Eagles under head coach Chip Kelly, vouched for Bradford as the Vikings considered the deal.
“it’s always nice to have a familiar face in the building.”
“Pat is very familiar with me as a player,” said Bradford on Saturday via conference call. “I think he understands the things that I do well, the concepts that I like. So, I’m sure that he can relay that to Coach Turner, and I think anytime you change teams, change settings, it’s always nice to have a familiar face in the building.”
Bradford got his first action in Sunday’s practice, which was not available to the media, and he says he’s been working late nights since he arrived in the Twin Cities on Saturday to get up to speed on Turner’s system. Shurmur will be a makeshift language teacher as he tries to translate the Vikings’ offensive lexicon into a tongue that Bradford can understand. “Conceptually there is some carry-over,” Bradford said Monday at Winter Park. “There are some plays that we run that are the same, if not the exact same, but very similar to things that I’ve done in the past. Obviously the big part is the communication, the line calls, the way we call plays in the huddle. The language, it’s all different, so trying to convert it from what it was in the past to what it’s called here — that’s kind of the tough part of the process right now.”
Bradford is accustomed to learning new systems. He played under Steve Spagnuolo (and two different offensive coordinators) from 2010-11, Jeff Fisher and Brian Schottenheimer from 2012-14 in St. Louis, spent a year with Kelly’s hurry-up system in Philadelphia, then learned first-year Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson’s new scheme this past offseason before moving west to Minnesota. Pederson’s system is supposedly similar to the West Coast offense, which is predicated on shorter drops. It seemed to fit Bradford well as the quarterback completed 80 percent of his passes this preseason, including 17 of 20 against the Colts in the third preseason game. That is also the style Shurmur has coordinated in the past, which could make for an interesting clash in philosophies against Turner’s seven-step-drop friendly “Air Coryell.”
The 28-year-old quarterback believes his experience with a variety of schemes is beneficial, as long as the team identifies where there is carry-over to Bradford’s past. “I’ve run them in the past,” Bradford said. “If we could lean on those, it would help me.”
Zimmer, who had never faced Bradford in his coaching career, brought in two new assistants this offseason for a reason: To get more flexibility on offense. That flexibility will be put to the test this week as the coaches try to incorporate Bradford into an offense that Bridgewater had a full offseason to hone. “I’m sure him being experienced has helped,” Zimmer said, “[being] in a couple different offenses.”
If Bradford were to start on Sunday, he’d likely have a fairly vanilla playbook to help him ease into the role, similar to how Brett Favre was integrated in 2009 with just 110 passing yards in his debut. Adrian Peterson had 180 rushing yards in that game, and he’ll likely be heavily involved against the Titans six days from now. “It’s nice knowing that we’ve got the best running back in the game and one of the best defenses in the league,” said Bradford. “We’re probably not going to have to go out there and throw it 60-plus times a game.”
Zimmer Ties Teddy’s Shoes
Unsolicited, Zimmer shared an amusing anecdote about Bridgewater on Monday. Here’s the re-telling word for word: “[Teddy]’s here every day down here in the training room, same kid as he’s always been, always with a smile on his face. Xavier Rhodes always comes in and unties his shoe. You know, he’s sitting and you know he can’t reach his shoe, so Xav does it, and I was down there today and I tied it for him. I’m the shoe-tier now.
“He deserves it,” Zimmer concluded.