MANKATO – Underneath the focus of offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur taking ahold of the Vikings offense is another set of fingerprints on the controls in quarterback Sam Bradford.
Entering his eighth NFL season, Bradford is being given more choices to direct the Vikings offense once the play is called and he lines up behind center. An expanded role is a product of enjoying his first full offseason in Minnesota, following the September trade from Philadelphia last year, and a trusting relationship with Shurmur, with whom he’s partnered with for a fourth season on a third team.
Could more flexibility at the line get the Vikings’ tires rolling in sticky situations? Bradford thinks so.
“[Shurmur] has given us, as quarterbacks, more freedom at the line of scrimmage to go up there and change plays,” Bradford said Monday. “To get in and out of plays or save ourselves from a play that’s a bad look. So that’s been nice. Obviously, it’s a little more on our plate this year, but I think it can put us in some good situations.”
Naturally, Bradford is at a point this offseason where he feels in control of a retooled Vikings offense reshaped by Shurmur, a coordinator he knows well and the one who drafted him first overall for the Rams in 2010. He wasn’t feeling totally in control last year, when Bradford was shipped to the Vikings eight days before the regular season opener and didn’t really get comfortable in 15 starts beyond a “basic level,” Bradford said.
“Not like it is now,” Bradford added.
So the offense struggled, sputtering through tedious drives and critical situations such as third downs and red zone chances — areas the Vikings have hammered in practices this year. Bradford’s efficiency, which included the NFL completion percentage record, was simultaneously buoyed and undermined by a limited offense that ranked only 23rd in points and 28th in yards.
The Week 9 resignation of former coordinator Norv Turner was a pivotal point. Bradford said he felt more comfortable calling some shots as Shurmur took complete control of the offense. Turner, hired by Zimmer in 2014, wasn’t known for giving quarterbacks much freedom at the line of scrimmage.
Turner admitted as much after the 2015 loss in Arizona, when — trailing by three points — Teddy Bridgewater was sacked and fumbled in field-goal range while waiting for longer routes to develop on a third-and-10 play. Asked afterward about Bridgewater’s ability to change the play, Turner said there was no need.
About 21 months later, Zimmer praised his offensive coaching staff for adapting to what Vikings players do well. For Bradford, that means calling more shots, whether by changing a run to a quick pass or diagnosing a blitz and adjusting protections.
“Coaches have done a nice job … to take advantage of the skillset of the players that we have now,” Zimmer said. “Understanding what Sam can do as far as some of the communication things, checks on the line of scrimmage, checking from a bad play into a good play, seeing the different types of pressures and being able to change protections.”
An active relationship with Zimmer may also help Bradford’s command at the line. While the Vikings coach was quarantined for a couple weeks at his ranch in Kentucky, a measure to help Zimmer recover from an eighth eye surgery, Bradford would send him text messages about that day’s practice tape.
Zimmer would ask Bradford what he saw before the snap on a given play.
“Did you see how deep the safety was here? Did you see the rotations start going?” Zimmer recalled asking Bradford.
Bradford may have applied one of those lessons during Monday’s practice, when he seemingly checked into a quick throw to receiver Adam Thielen after linebacker Anthony Barr showed like he was going to blitz through the center of the line. As soon as Barr arrived, the ball was out of Bradford’s hands for a short completion.
That’s how Bradford hopes to see a leap in his own game.
“Hopefully decision making, being able to just recognize coverages faster,” Bradford said. “Probably with some of the new freedoms we have to change plays at the line of scrimmage. Possibly being able to recognize a blitz or recognize a coverage quicker and get to a play that’s going to suit that coverage.”