Mike Zimmer always is hesitant to read too much into what he sees during noncontact spring practices because he doesn’t want to “evaluate guys in shorts and underwear.” But the third-year coach feels good about what he has seen from his third-year quarterback in one troublesome area.
Since the Vikings exercised their right to allow media to watch only one of their three organized team activities last week, we will let Zimmer describe one particular play from Teddy Bridgewater that had him so encouraged.
“We had a hard count. … He saw the guy jump,” Zimmer said. “He said, ‘Got you!’ and he saw the safety bite a little bit and just hung [a deep pass] right down the middle of the field about 55 yards [for] a perfect strike.”
Deep-ball accuracy was arguably the biggest issue for Bridgewater during his first two NFL seasons. Zimmer acknowledges that producing more big plays has been an offseason emphasis. And throughout the spring, Bridgewater’s deep throws have connected more consistently, according to his coach.
“We’ve just focused on it a little bit more,” Zimmer said Tuesday after the Vikings wrapped up the first practice of their three-day minicamp.
Accurate, except on deep balls
When factoring in drops, throwaways and passes batted down at the line, no NFL starter was more accurate last season than Bridgewater, according to Pro Football Focus. But he was among the league’s least dangerous deep passers. Bridgewater was accurate on only 37.5 percent of his throws that traveled at least 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, which ranked 23rd in the NFL.
The Vikings did not ask Bridgewater to chuck it downfield often. He attempted only 48 throws that went 20 or more yards downfield, which also ranked 23rd, per PFF. But when they did go deep, too often he misfired.
The 23-year-old quarterback still had a bad habit of dropping his elbow when passing. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner and Scott Turner, his son and the team’s quarterbacks coach, continue to work on Bridgewater’s technique in the hopes that he will become a more accurate deep passer.
“It’s just finishing throws,” Bridgewater said. “Last year, there were a bunch of throws where I probably wasn’t finishing the throws, following through and things like that, which would cause the ball to sail and things like that.”
In the Week 8 victory over the Chicago Bears, Bridgewater’s late-game heroics probably would not have been needed had he not sailed a pass over the head of speedster Mike Wallace earlier in the game. And in the season finale against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, Bridgewater had running back Jerick McKinnon running open down the sideline but overthrew him, too.
Those weren’t just missed opportunities to put a quick six points up on the scoreboard. They also were chances to intimidate defenses, creating space for both the running game and the team’s critical intermediate passing attack.
“It’s always important because you can back people up,” Zimmer said. “But the percentages on deep balls are not really very good. I don’t care who’s throwing them. It’s timing, the arc on the ball, guys are running full speed.”
‘Teddy Two Gloves Academy’
Bridgewater and his wide receivers believe they have developed better chemistry this offseason, starting with the informal workouts organized by the quarterback in Florida in early April.
Jarius Wright, Stefon Diggs and Cordarrelle Patterson were among several pass-catchers who accepted the invitation to what Patterson dubbed the “Teddy Two Gloves Passing Academy.”
Bridgewater said he may try to get the gang back together sometime between the end of minicamp and the start of training camp in late July because those workouts were so successful in sparking chemistry both on and off the field.
“He’s looking a lot more comfortable throwing the deep ball to us,” Wright said. “I think Teddy has a feel for us and he has a trust for us, and it’s also about us being in the right position. We worked on it a lot this offseason, just getting better at connecting downfield. And I think it’s showing up.”
Zimmer and the Vikings hope it will show up on Sundays this fall, too.