In the midst of dealing with his eye problems this spring, Mike Zimmer made a road trip to Oklahoma to visit his quarterback. He really didn’t know Sam Bradford that well on a personal level, so Zimmer thought a private meeting over dinner would help strengthen their relationship.
“I felt like it was important that I went down and talked to him,” Zimmer said.
Bradford’s 11th-hour arrival last season required a cram session in learning a new offense, new teammates, new surroundings, new everything. That didn’t allow the Vikings quarterback and head coach to dive deep beyond surface conversations.
Zimmer invited Bradford to his office a few times for brief talks, but Zimmer mostly focused on his defense while Bradford buried himself in his playbook, trying to make up for lost time as Teddy Bridgewater’s emergency replacement.
“Everything was such a whirlwind,” Zimmer said.
Finally able to self-evaluate this spring, Zimmer reflected on ways to improve his team and himself. He realized he needed to invest more time with his offense and connect on a more personal level with his quarterback.
So he arranged to meet Bradford on his turf, in Oklahoma.
“That was really cool,” Bradford said. “Very rarely do you have a head coach that’s willing to take time out of his offseason to come down and see you and spend time with you. I just think that says a lot about Coach Zim and his desire for this team to succeed and do well, that he’s willing to do whatever it takes for this team to do that.”
To be sure, fixing their broken offensive line, improving the running game and convincing Bradford to take more chances as a passer will have far greater impact on the offense’s success than Zimmer’s relationship with Bradford. But those two being more in tune with each other can be mutually beneficial.
Zimmer can get a better pulse of what’s happening on offense. And Bradford can gain insight from Zimmer’s expertise to learn more about coverages and blitz packages.
Their relationship started to evolve this offseason as Zimmer recovered from eye surgery at his Kentucky ranch. Zimmer would watch video of offseason workouts and then fire off text messages to Bradford with suggestions and things to correct. They also talk a lot more during practices now.
“I feel like the more that we can communicate about things that I’m thinking, things that he’s thinking, it’s overall better,” Zimmer said.
This is an interesting dance for Zimmer because he has never hid his affection for Bridgewater, whose future with the organization remains unclear as he recovers from his knee injury. The team’s quarterback situation beyond this season is murky to say the least.
The Vikings could offer Bradford a long-term extension if he shows that he deserves it with his performance. Or they could turn back to Bridgewater if he regains his health. Or they could start over completely if the first two options aren’t desirable.
At present, it’s difficult to handicap that race.
Until that question gets resolved, Zimmer must invest himself in Bradford. Their visit in Oklahoma this offseason allowed Bradford to feel more ownership of his leadership role and his standing within the organization.
“The fact that he took time to come down there and do that, asking for my opinion on things, it makes you feel valued,” Bradford said. “It makes you feel important. But also, I think it lets me know that I have a responsibility to him and to this team to be what he expects me to be.”
This column is from our 2017 Vikings preview section.