Sunday slant: Prove-it season for several

The Vikings might have found their franchise quarterback, but Teddy Bridgewater will need his receivers to step up in 2015 if the offense is to turn the corner.

Teddy Bridgewater “proved it” last year, but he will need others to do it around him this year.

The rookie quarterback didn’t let a poor pro day dissuade him. He didn’t let the predraft drop in stock bother him much. He even joked about some of the things that were said about him prior to the draft, saying the comparison to Willie Beamen, the fictional quarterback from “Any Given Sunday,” was the most unfair comparison. To wit, Wikipedia’s description of Beamen:

“Beamen is visibly nervous and makes a number of errors, illustrating his lack of knowledge regarding the team’s playbook. He vomits in the huddle, which begins a ritual that he follows every game. While the Sharks lose this game by a small margin, Beamen, despite his initial struggles, plays well and gains confidence.”

Bridgewater was the Bizarro Beamen, never appearing nervous or overwhelmed, despite several players talking about how complex Norv Turner’s offense could be. All the Minnesota Vikings quarterback did was turn in the best rookie quarterback performance in years without much surrounding him.

Adrian Peterson never played a game with Bridgewater. Cordarrelle Patterson was a shell of his rookie performance. Greg Jennings was nothing above average. Kyle Rudolph was injured once again and played in less than half the offensive snaps.

Things are changing with the Vikings offense, but one thing remains: Bridgewater could use several players surrounding him to step up their performance and make his job easier in his second season.

Jennings and his weighty contract are gone, replaced by Mike Wallace’s fresher legs but equally weighty contract. Fortunately for the Vikings’ future, it appears they are going to eat the entirety of Jennings’ dead money on this year’s salary cap, meaning it essentially will cost them $15.8 million this year to replace Jennings with Wallace. But that also gives the Vikings a deep threat that Patterson failed to be in his second season.

But Wallace has some rebounding to do himself. Whether it was because he was “Miscast in Miami” or not, the numbers don’t lie. In his first three seasons in the league, he averaged 19.4, 21.0 and 16.6 yards per catch with the Pittsburgh Steelers. That declined to 13.1 in his last year in Pittsburgh, then below 13 in each of his two seasons with the Dolphins.

But Turner is known for his love of stretching the field deep, and Wallace could return to that beloved role in 2015. His contract runs through 2017, but the Vikings would have no dead money if they cut him after this year. They hope for just the opposite – that he is so good there is no way they wouldn’t want to pay out his $11.5 million in each of the next two seasons.

Jarius Wright will also have to step up, but opportunity might be the only thing standing him and a breakout season. Playing in only 50 percent of the offensive snaps, Wright had 42 catches for 588 yards in 2014. That was second among wide receivers on the team for both catches and yardage. He also had the highest percentage (68) of passes caught that were thrown his way. Patterson also played in 50 percent of the snaps because he had his starting spot usurped by Charles Johnson, but Patterson only caught 49 percent of the passes thrown his way.

Coaches continue to say that Patterson needs to improve on his route-running and understanding of where he should be. To his credit, he said all the right things earlier this offseason.

“This season my starting job got took. I see a lot of people comment on the Twitter or the Instagram and stuff like that. It hurts, but it is what it is. I stand by what all the coaches do,” Patterson said. “But next year I feel like I’ve got to come and prove to the whole world, everybody, and I feel like that’s what I’m going to do. This is going to be the most important offseason in my whole life coming off a season like that, coming from your rookie year where everybody is expecting big things and having that sophomore slump. This offseason is going to be the best, and I feel like (this) year I’m going to come in stronger, faster and quicker than I did in any other year.”

The Vikings, and Bridgewater, can only hope … and wait for the proof.

Still, it’s clear that while the offense is being reconstructed to Turner’s specifications, Patterson is going to have earn his spot back. He isn’t one of the first players mentioned by coaches when talking about the weapons. Those first mentions belong to Wallace, Rudolph and, they hope, Peterson.

For years, the “face of the franchise” domain went to Peterson. Rightfully so. He hasn’t only been the best player on the roster since his arrival in 2007, he is one of the best in franchise history and is still hoping to have the opportunity to become the best running back of all-time in the NFL. But whether Peterson is part of the offense next year or not, the onus will be the receiving weapons to perform better.

Teddy Bridgewater needs that to step into the domain of a top-10 quarterback. The Vikings offense, one that ranked 27th in the league last year, needs that.

If they get it, the Vikings offense could turn the corner and complement a rising defense, and suddenly the Vikings could become a respected contender. It is the season of hope around the NFL. Rosters are still being constructed and the Vikings’ depth chart will have a new look. If the receiving weapons step up, it should be a much better look.


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