If anything good came from Teddy Bridgewater’s sore shoulder, which Vikings fans would gladly take now after Tuesday’s dislocated knee, then it was a trial run with Shaun Hill as the starting quarterback.
Hill led one touchdown drive on five attempts against the Seattle Seahawks earlier this month, showing he’s still serviceable against a talented, albeit rudimentary and preseason, defense. Perhaps the brightest ray of hope was better pass protection from the offensive line, which they’ll need to keep the much-less-mobile Hill upright.
Another steep on-field decline from Bridgewater will be durability. Where the 23-year-old quarterback could take an illegal knockout hit last year from Lamarcus Joyner and return the following week, the same shouldn’t be expected of Hill, who took a couple days off practice following his 17 throws and zero sacks in Seattle.
There are a handful of external options to change the face at quarterback, though even the Colin Kaepernick or Mark Sanchez trades don’t inspire a ton of confidence. And simply the Aug. 30 timing of Bridgewater’s injury means the Vikings are stuck with Hill as the indefinite starter until any potential newcomer could pick up the playbook.
Many Vikings fans are left feeling like they’ve seen this movie before, and it doesn’t end well. Though this version of purple heartbreak comes with a coaching staff and roster that are more talented than their prequels. And they’re led by a respected head coach in Mike Zimmer, whose task now is to keep players bought into Super Bowl aspirations.
To stay on track, the Vikings offense will need to share the burden of improvement that had rested primarily on Bridgewater’s shoulders.
Three non-quarterbacks come to mind.
Adrian Peterson – There’s no question who the lead man in the offense is now. Coordinator Norv Turner was already predicting 20 carries per game for Peterson, and that was with a healthy Bridgewater. Zimmer called for a more balanced approach this year, though he also preaches knowing your strengths and using them. Peterson showed last year he’s still capable of carrying the NFL’s heaviest run burden and that load certainly won’t lighten up now that the Vikings are without their starting quarterback. They made the playoffs in 2012 with a superhuman Peterson and a lesser defense and talent level overall. Can he carry the offense again at age 31?
Tony Sparano — The former head coach and Vikings first-year offensive line coach took on responsibilities of turning around the team’s weakest position group and implementing new schemes in the run game. Though the work Sparano put into reshaping left tackle Matt Kalil’s pass protection sets could be one of the more critical changes going from the mobile Bridgewater to Hill. Additionally, Peterson could benefit greatly from wider lanes to run through to not only increase his effectiveness, but guard against inevitable decline. More creases will also be needed for Jerick McKinnon, whose role is still expected to increase. Guard Brandon Fusco recently said Sparano’s run schemes better suit his preference for playing in space, which is a good early sign.
Cordarrelle Patterson — I actually thought Hill fared decently evading Seahawks defenders and pushing the ball downfield to Kyle Rudolph and Adam Thielen. Though the sustainability of a downfield passing attack is not great for a 36-year-old quarterback who has started eight games in the last five years and no more than 10 in a single season. In that preseason game, Patterson showed he’s still capable of picking up a first down on a screen pass as he caught two such throws for 17 yards. Those have been his only grabs in the preseason, leaving questions about his ability to run routes and get open. Through a trying couple of years for Patterson, he has remained one of the league’s best kick returners. Despite his flaws, he’s a dynamic talent who could help Hill get the ball out quickly.