Lights on. Pads on. And the offense was on.
Bridgewater scored on a bootleg run in goal-line work, but the real night show started about halfway through the 2½-hour practice in front of more than 10,000 fans.
It wasn’t immediate success for the offense, as CB Trae Waynes knocked down a 40-yard pass intended for Stefon Diggs in the first full-team session using the full field. CB Terence Newman also knocked down a long ball intended for Charles Johnson, but Newman was flagged for pass interference by the NFL officiating crew finishing its four-day session in Mankato.
But early in another full-team session the Bridgewater connection with his young receivers took flight. He hit Diggs for a 40-yard pass with Newman in coverage, and Diggs took advantage of his quickness with a hasty break to the outside when DE Brian Robison dropped into coverage, resulting in a catch of about 20 yards.
Diggs said he isn’t necessarily focusing on improving the deep passing game with Bridgewater, but those two seemed to find a groove Saturday night.
“It’s just a mixture of everything. We’re trying to be able to do everything as far as stretching the ball down the field, short – anything that’s going to give us an opportunity to win we’re trying to do,” Diggs said.
After the two connections with Diggs, Bridgewater developed a rhythm with rookie first-round pick Laquon Treadwell on some sideline routes, hitting him for passes of about 10 and 20 yards that showed off Treadwell’s hands and physicality.
“I think I showed myself a little bit. It was fun. It was a good environment. I’m starting to get comfortable,” Treadwell said. “That’s the biggest thing for me is I’m starting to get comfortable and playing fast and not thinking so much. The more I do that, the plays will just come naturally. I’m more of a feel type of guy. Once I get the feel of something, it’s kind of easy for me to just play at that level. It’s slowing down a lot for me.”
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If the passing game can carry over those sorts of plays from a night practice into game action, it would bode well for the entire team.
“Just as far as putting a lot of time in and trying to make the most of it out there when it’s live. Just as far as continuing to grind and put it in the right direction with your quarterback,” Diggs said. “It’s good that good things are happening, but we’re just trying to work in a better direction.”
If Saturday night was a true indication, they appear to be getting there.
However, there were some mistakes.
Working in the two-minute offense, Bridgewater got the team inside the red zone, but then threw an interception to Xavier Rhodes when targeting Johnson. The interception wouldn’t have counted because Everson Griffen jumped offsides, but at least Rhodes got a taste of an interception.
“I was on top of the receiver and I just went and got it,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes has turned himself into a solid cornerback, but he has had only one interception each of the last two years. He nearly had another interception in the red zone Saturday night but was out of bounds when he came down with it.
Bridgewater said his task becomes even harder in the red zone when going up the Vikings defense because they have seen the offense’s plays there so many times.
“They start in practice,” Rhodes said of the interceptions. “You’ve just got to start from doing those in practice and make it a habit.”
It wasn’t perfect for Rhodes, however. Treadwell’s back-to-back interceptions came on Rhodes’ side of the field, but he said he sees the offense finding a rhythm.
“Those guys are starting to communicate. You can tell the chemistry is starting to come together,” he said of the offense. “Teddy knows where to go with the ball for those guys and they’re reading off each other. You can see from last year to this year the chemistry is a little better.”
Adam Thielen, whom Bridgewater calls “the Mankato legend,” also had a deep catch about 50 yards downfield that came against Rhodes.
“We just wanted to come out and be aggressive and I think we did a good job of that tonight,” Bridgewater said, “but there are some things we want to clean up.”
SATURDAY NIGHT NOTES
- Several players didn’t participate, including Cordarrelle Patterson (shoulder), Sharrif Floyd (unknown), Brandon Fusco (unknown), Zach Line (knee) and Edmond Robinson (unknown).
- With Fusco out, Joe Berger took the starting snaps at right guard.
- LB Eric Kendricks stopped practicing about halfway through and didn’t return. He was replaced by Audie Cole.
- In addition to running a naked bootleg on the first goal-line play, Bridgewater also hit Kyle Rudolph for a touchdown in the back corner of the end zone when Harrison Smith had his back turned to the offense.
- Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said he thought Jeff Locke had a good night punting the ball. Asked about some punts that wobbled a bit, he said a little wobble is preferred over a tight spiral because the ball turns over better and those punts can gain as much as a half-second of hang time.
- The Vikings practiced a couple of pooch punts with Bridgewater and Blair Walsh.
- Walsh was 7-for-8 on field goal attempts, missing from 49 yards out wide left and making the final one from 51 yards out.
- Marcus Sherels, Troy Stoudermire and Diggs returned punts.
- S Michael Griffin and LB Emmanuel Lamur got some turns with the first-team defense.