Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner has worked with some excellent quarterbacks in his 29 years as an NFL coach, and he says Teddy Bridgewater improved as much as anyone he can remember in their rookie season.
Bridgewater was named to the all-rookie team by the Pro Football Writers of America on Tuesday. And Vikings coaches no doubt have been impressed by the performance of the first-round draft choice from Louisville while studying films from the past season.
“I think [Bridgewater] probably developed a little quicker than the guys I have been around,” Turner said. “Right away I think his awareness, his ability to absorb information, I think it was outstanding and I think it showed in the way he played, particularly in the second half of the season.”
Bridgewater posted an 85.2 passer rating this season to rank 22nd in the NFL, right behind Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (85.7) and in front of playoff quarterbacks such as Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton (25th, 83.5) and Carolina’s Cam Newton (26th, 82.1). But it was Bridgewater’s play over the final five weeks, when he threw for 1,230 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions, that he really showed signs of being the Vikings’ franchise quarterback.
Turner said it wasn’t only Bridgewater’s play that improved, but the offense as a whole.
“We got into a little better rhythm,” Turner said. “I really think when [wide receiver] Charles Johnson started playing, it gave us another weapon and forced defenses to play us a little differently. They had to respect his big-play ability and I think it opened some things up for everybody else. As a young player, I think Teddy just got a comfort level with the system and with the players he was playing with. He started to get a chemistry with [Greg] Jennings and, as I said, Charles Johnson, and certainly with Jarius Wright.”
Turner said one of the keys to Bridgewater’s improvement will be to bulk up to improve durability.
“I think he’s a lean guy,” Turner said. “I think a good year in the weight room — he has not been a big weightlifter in college and I think a good year just improving his overall body strength — will help him. Certainly this is a very physical game, and then I think just playing and being more comfortable playing. I think we all saw him improve with the deep ball and then, you know, just a better understanding of our offense. I think there will be some little things that show up and those little things end up making a difference.”
Life without Adrian
The Vikings started the season believing they would have the services of Adrian Peterson, the 2012 league MVP and best running back in the NFL, but that plan changed drastically when Peterson was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list and then suspended until at least April 15 after a felony charge of child abuse for whipping his 4-year-old son with a switch.
Turner said the offense missed Peterson, but he did like what he saw out of backs Jerick McKinnon, Matt Asiata and Joe Banyard.
“I like what our guys did,” he said. “I liked their toughness and their preparation and the best thing we did obviously, we did a great job of protecting the football. We did not fumble the ball. We lost two fumbles all year. That is hard to do. Obviously not having Adrian makes a big difference, and like Coach [Mike] Zimmer said, I think we all would welcome him back.”
While Turner said he believes the team might look for outside help for the roster, the biggest improvements must come from players already on the team.
“The players we have need to get a year better and then if we can add offensive linemen, depth in the offensive line, obviously people talk about another receiver, but those are personnel issues,” Turner said. “Our guys, I think they all got better. I think Jarius Wright is a great example of a guy who just improved, and you could see it on a weekly basis. I think I would start with your own players and getting them a year better and developing their skills. We know a lot more about our guys right now than we did a year ago at this time.”
One player Turner thinks can really help is tight end Kyle Rudolph, who missed seven games because of knee and ankle injuries and finished with only 24 receptions for 231 yards and two scores.
“Kyle missed half the season and even when he came back, I don’t think he was back the way he was in training camp,” Turner said. “He needs a great offseason so he can stay healthy for an entire year. Those tight ends are valuable to a quarterback. They give them a security blanket. They’re the guy that gets them out of trouble, great guys on third down, all those things that Kyle can do for us.”
• Of the three Gophers football players who are transferring — including wide receiver Conner Krizancic of Mentor, Ohio, and defensive tackle Demaris Peppers of Memphis — the biggest surprise is quarterback Dimonic Roden-McKinzy of Kansas City, Kan. Roden-McKinzy was highly recruited by a number of programs, but now he is enrolling at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, where he can get experience to eventually play for a Division I team.
• Larry McKenzie, who coached Minneapolis Henry to four consecutive Class 3A boys’ basketball titles from 2000 to 2003, is now the Minneapolis North coach. The Polars are 6-0 in conference play and ranked No. 1 in Class 1A.
• Siyani Chambers is a guard in his junior year at Harvard, and the former Hopkins standout is averaging 8.9 points, 4.9 assists and 1.8 rebounds per game. Harvard is 10-4 overall and 1-0 in Ivy League play. … Kyle Washington, who played at Benilde-St. Margaret’s, is having a great sophomore season as a forward for North Carolina State, averaging 7.6 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. Washington had 17 points on 8-for-17 shooting in the Wolfpack’s 81-79 loss to No. 15 North Carolina on Wednesday. He also scored nine points in their 87-75 upset of No. 2 Duke last Sunday. … Tyus Jones of Apple Valley is averaging 10.2 points, 5.3 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game as a freshman point guard at Duke.
• Colton Beebe, a recent Gophers football recruit from Piper (Kan.) High School, won the Bobby Bell Award for the second consecutive year as the best linebacker or lineman in the Kansas City metro area. He had 152 tackles, including 23 tackles for loss, this season.
• Former Gophers defenseman and Roseau, Minn., native Aaron Ness has been added to the Eastern Conference roster for the 2015 AHL All-Star Game on Jan. 26. Ness has five goals and 17 assists in 35 games for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the N.Y. Islanders affiliate.
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