The process wasn’t as dramatic as last year’s quarterback situation. But rookie Kyle Sloter ramped up his study of the Vikings playbook once he learned the team might promote him less than two weeks after he was signed to the practice squad.
Sloter, 23, learned around his sixth practice of starter Sam Bradford’s questionable status for Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh because of a strained left knee. Bradford ultimately sat out the 26-9 loss, making Sloter the backup quarterback for his first NFL game. He could stay there if Bradford misses more time.
“It’s been a little bit of a whirlwind,” Sloter said. “This is my 15th day here. Just trying to learn the offense as much as I can and, in case something happens, I’m trying to be ready.”
At the start of his third week with the Vikings, Sloter estimates he could run about “70 to 80 percent” of the playbook. The undrafted Northern Colorado product impressed a few teams with his strong preseason in Denver, where he completed 31 of 43 passes for 413 yards and three touchdowns. The Vikings outbid the Broncos and Redskins to get Sloter’s arm on the practice squad after the Broncos waived him.
“He’s behind, but he’s an athletic kid,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “Throws the ball good, strong arm. But he’s catching up.”
Sloter said he’s been living “a dream” as the former college receiver once fought to prove he could simply play quarterback. He said friends and family were quick to fill his phone with calls and text messages after Sloter’s promotion to the 53-man roster this weekend.
However, his chances of staying on the active roster could be tied to the health of Bradford, who a year earlier was traded to Minnesota and started against the Packers less than two weeks into his tenure as the Vikings quarterback. The outlook on Bradford’s knee is considered day-to-day, Zimmer says.
“We thought [Bradford] might recover a little bit faster, because it’s not something serious,” Sloter said. “One way or another, he’s going to be ready to go again at some point.”
Zimmer chalked up a high pressure rate on quarterback Case Keenum to a few factors, including communication issues and Keenum’s dropbacks. The Vikings coach deflected much of the blame away from the offensive line, save for a couple of occasions during Sunday’s loss in Pittsburgh.
“Did we get beat sometimes? Yes, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it protection issues,” Zimmer said, explaining: “The protecting and the quarterback depth, a lot of these things go hand-in-hand. [Keenum] got deep a couple times and we’re not protecting at that depth. Some of it was that. We were late out of the snap one time. For the most part, we got on the right guys.”
The Vikings allowed some free Steelers defenders a run at Keenum, which Zimmer also noted as an example of blockers not being on the same page against “exotic” Steelers blitzes. Keenum was pressured on 46 percent of his pass plays, according to Pro Football Focus.
Dialing it back
Eager to give the Vikings a spark, Zimmer said he considered calling the fake punt in Sunday’s first half. Instead punter Ryan Quigley threw an incompletion on his first snap of the third quarter. The Vikings’ aggression on special teams didn’t come without some regret.
Kick returner Jerick McKinnon fielded two kickoffs from 8 to 9 yards deep in his own end zone. He started off the Vikings offense at Minnesota’s own 17- and 18-yard lines after those returns.
“We should not have done that, but that’s not Jerick’s fault. It’s my fault,” Zimmer said. “I was trying to be aggressive. We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot and start at the 18-yard line when he’s almost stepping on the back end line.”