With the Minnesota Vikings picking up a lot more national attention coming off their NFC North Division title, the organization is now facing a different type of question. No longer are the questions being asked as to whether the Vikings have the ability to make the playoffs. They’ve already done that. Now the question is what do they need to do to be in a legitimate position to be a Super Bowl contender?
Much of that discussion centers on whether Teddy Bridgewater will take the next step to be a quarterback who leads the Vikings to the playoffs and does his part to get them back to the Super Bowl for the first time in 40 years. Some of the anticipated improvement will be tied into the Vikings moving indoors.
In an interview with NBCSN/Pro Football Talk host Mike Florio, Mike Zimmer was asked about the Vikings’ future. Florio, an admitted Vikings fan, went as far as to ask such questions as to whether Bridgewater could possibly be a better QB without Adrian Peterson being the focal point of the offense. Among Florio’s assertions was that Bridgewater may also thrive once he starts playing all his home games indoors. However, Zimmer isn’t as big a proponent of the Vikings’ roofed digs as most are.
If Zimmer had his way, the Vikings would stay an outdoor team because, like Bud Grant before him, it created a mystique that could be a bit intimidating and the Vikings will have to re-create a home-field edge at U.S. Bank Stadium that they had built at TCF Bank Stadium Zimmer’s first two seasons as head coach.
“We kind of enjoyed playing outdoors the last two years – something about the mindset of the football team,” Zimmer said. “There’s a little bit of me that would like to stay outside. It think it was a nice advantage for us and I thought it kind of brought out the mentality that I’m looking for in the football team.”
Not everyone shares Zimmer’s outdoors enthusiasm. Several players have expressed their joy about never having to play another home game with frostbite being a concern. One player who many believe will benefit most from having nine guaranteed indoor games – eight homes games and an annual trip to Ford Field – is Bridgewater.
To date, Bridgewater has a very small sample size of indoor football. Of his 28 starts, only four of them have been climate controlled, but Zimmer is impressed with what Bridgewater has consistently shown when practicing indoors at Winter Park. He looks like a different player and Zimmer hopes that will translate on the field when Vikings games return to climate-controlled conditions.
“The one thing I do notice with Teddy is that when we practice indoors in the fieldhouse, he really hums the ball,” Zimmer said. “It kind of jumps off his hand. Some of those games when he played indoors, he performed very well.”
When probed about what it will take for Bridgewater to become an elite quarterback, Zimmer harkened back to his time with the Cowboys as an assistant coach. At the time, Troy Aikman was viewed as a game manager on a team with the best running back and a stout defense. He was asked not to make mistakes and came away with Super Bowl rings as a result, as well as a last stop in Canton at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
More times than not, Aikman didn’t post big game-to-game numbers. But he didn’t need to by design. He did his part to win the game. That’s what Zimmer hopes to see in Bridgewater in 2016. He doesn’t need to throw for 4,000 yards or 35 touchdowns, although Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman would like to him become more aggressive.
“I hope he’s a championship quarterback, that’s really the most important thing to me,” Zimmer said. “I think everybody gets so caught up in statistics. You think about the days when I was in Dallas and Aikman would be 15 out of 19 for 215 yards or something and we’d win the game by 40 because we would run the ball and play good defense. He was accurate and wouldn’t turn the ball over – a lot of things Teddy is doing now. More importantly for me is, after next season, you say what the biggest difference in Teddy, to me it would be that he took charge of this football team, he took charge of the way he handled everything and maybe took charge of the league.”
Florio attempted to go right to horse and ask the source if he could envision Bridgewater’s maturation as quarterback taking place with the game’s premier running back as the focus in the offensive game plan. Zimmer claimed it isn’t an either/or proposition. It’s finding a happy medium in which both Bridgewater and Peterson can excel, minimizing their liabilities and maximizing their strengths.
“There is a little bit of Adrian and Teddy and the offense kind of molding together,” Zimmer said. “I don’t think he can’t take charge because Adrian is there. It was a little bit of a work in progress having Adrian there for the first time with Teddy. It’s not a bad problem to have. It’s something we as coaches have to work through to get the right kind of combination of, what can Adrian do well out of the gun and what can Teddy do well under center? It’s that small combination of things that we can do as coaches to make this team better.”
There isn’t any question that as the Vikings move forward in the five months until the start of training camp and the ramping up of the 2016 season there will be questions about how far the Vikings can go with Peterson as an aging back and Bridgewater as an emerging quarterback. The answers will have to wait, but you can bet the revamped offensive coaching staff has plenty of ideas percolating on the back burners that they’re ready to incorporate when the time is right.