MANKATO – At times, the voices of purple-clad fans harmonized Thursday afternoon.
As players reported to training camp, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater were singled out most by a crowd eager to see what last year’s 11-win team will do following a first-round playoff exit. Before throwing a pass in U.S. Bank Stadium, Bridgewater was greeted with chants of “Teddy, Teddy!” upon his arrival at the dorms of Minnesota State Mankato.
“I welcome pressure,” Bridgewater said. “Been dealing with pressure since I’ve been playing sports, so that’s why I play the position. It’s a pressure-packed position and I love it. For me, I welcome it with open arms.”
To win a playoff game, and then some, the Vikings need more from a middle-of-the-pack offense that ranked 31st in passing yards per game last season. General Manager Rick Spielman invested important resources this spring with the free-agent addition of left guard Alex Boone and first-round selection of receiver Laquon Treadwell. Both figure to improve the play around Bridgewater, who saw the highest rate of pressure among quarterbacks in 2015, according to Pro Football Focus.
Bridgewater’s development is ongoing after he passed for 28 touchdowns and ran for four more in 28 starts through two seasons. Zimmer said he wants to see a more aggressive Bridgewater on the field, while the quarterback himself said his throwing motion and follow-through were tweaked this spring.
“I’m going to continue to do what’s asked of me, and then some,” Bridgewater said. “I don’t want to be that guy that I’m not. I’m not going to go out there and throw the ball all around the park and throw it to the other team. I want to have an aggressive mentality but a relaxed presence. That’s going to be my focus this year. I’m going to make sure I’m studying film more and just be willing to take shots.”
A lesson learned
Gratitude for the now-retired Kevin Williams came from many — even from a Viking who never played with Williams. New guard Alex Boone recalled when he underestimated an “old” guy, four years before Williams chose to walk away.
“True story with Kevin Williams,” Boone said. “First year starting [in 2012], we’re going into the Metrodome. … I remember thinking the whole week, ‘Who’s Kevin Williams and what … could he do to me?’ I’m like ‘I’m young, he’s old. I’m good-looking, he’s not. I’ve got this sewn up.’ First time ever I thought I had it, and he [schooled] me like a little boy.”
After 13 NFL seasons, including 11 with the Vikings, Williams signed a one-day, ceremonial contract Wednesday to officially retire in Minnesota.
Backup QB sidelined
Third-string quarterback Taylor Heinicke won’t be ready for the Vikings’ first camp practice Friday after suffering an ankle injury earlier this month.
Broken glass lacerated Heinicke’s left ankle after the 23-year-old quarterback tried to kick in the door of an Atlanta apartment after he and a friend who lived in the apartment were locked out, a source confirmed. Shortly after, he underwent surgery and is expected to return later this season.
Heinicke reported to Mankato on a rolling scooter with a cast on his left leg.
A few Vikings might ease into camp as defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, linebacker Anthony Barr and guard Mike Harris weren’t sure if they’d be ready for Friday.
Players underwent physicals and conditioning tests Thursday. Harris, who was held out this spring because of a head injury, said he’s hopeful to practice immediately. Floyd and Barr missed all of spring workouts and didn’t know whether they’d be cleared.
Boone declared himself ready after sitting out the end of June’s minicamp.
“Ready to roll, baby,” Boone said. “I’m just getting old, man. I need days off.”