Even before Phil Loadholt’s injury, the Minnesota Vikings have put a greater emphasis this offseason on pass protection.
At training camp, head coach Mike Zimmer said the offensive line was working harder than ever, and likely harder than any of linemen had worked previously, on improving pass protection. Offensive Norv Turner backed up that assessment Monday in the wake of Loadholt’s season-ending Achilles injury.
“I don’t know if we can put any more emphasis than we have,” Turner said when asked if Loadholt’s injury will put the onus on the tight ends to help with blocking. “We started in February and looked hard at everything we could do to help our protection.
“Protections, everyone assumes that it’s just the five linemen. It has to do with the back, tight ends, the quarterback getting the ball, the types of protections that you call in certain situations. We’re just doing everything we can to keep guys off the quarterback. The quarterback is going to get hit in this league. We looked at the top offenses in the league last year and the quarterbacks all get hit. They all get sacked. We just want to keep them to a minimum.”
That didn’t happen last year.
As a team, the Vikings had the fifth-most sacks (51) in the league last year. Jacksonville (71), Washington (58), San Francisco (52) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (52) finished in the top four and none of those teams had a winning record.
Teddy Bridgewater, who played in 13 games and started 12, took 39 of the Vikings’ 51 sacks, including a two-game October stretch in which he took 13 sacks. But Turner believes Bridgewater showed significant improvement in getting rid of the ball faster later in the season.
“I thought he did that at a very high level. We happened to last year play three or four of the best pass-rush teams in the National Football League,” Turner said. “And we looked at other teams playing against them, they had similar problems to what we had. We’re working hard so we don’t have those problems and I think Teddy is very in tune to what we’re trying to get done in terms of getting the ball out. I think all three of the quarterbacks did an outstanding job on Saturday night getting the ball out quickly, making good decisions. As I said, we can help them some with different style of passes, different style of protections.”
It’s preseason, which means defenses don’t often send exotic blitzes on opposing quarterbacks, but through two preseason games the Vikings have taken just two sacks, one on Shaun Hill’s initial dropback of the preseason and another on rookie Taylor Heinicke.
Turner also said he believes Bridgewater is getting better at getting to his third and fourth options in the passing game.
“He’s a very quick decision-maker and I’m always going to relate to, when he played at his best, that last third of the season – as I tell you, I’m not a big stat guy – but I don’t see us as the 28th-rated passing game in the league last year because over the last six weeks we were probably a top-10 passing game and that’s what we’re trying to build on,” Turner said.