New Minnesota Vikings QB Sam Bradford faces challenges with protection calls

If Sam Bradford is ready to play on Sunday, protections will be one of the biggest challenges. Bradford and center Joe Berger discussed.

Sam Bradford is trying to learn it all, or at least enough of it, to make starting on Sunday for the Minnesota Vikings a viable possibility.

For now, it is a possibility, even as Bradford works overtime to familiarize himself with the offense, with the terminology and with his new personnel. Those issues alone could be overwhelming to digest in one week and the Vikings will certainly be on a pared-down menu of plays if Bradford is their starter out of the gate Sunday.

Keeping him upright will also be a challenge facing a pressure defense from the Tennessee Titans in the regular-season opener, especially after Teddy Bridgewater was pressured more than any quarterback in the league last year. However, that task falls on an offensive line that has been overhauled.

Matt Kalil remains at left tackle and Joe Berger at center. Beyond that, however, Alex Boone is the new left guard, Brandon Fusco has moved back to right guard and Andre Smith is the new right tackle.

The communication between Bradford and Berger will be key.

“A good relationship with the quarterback and center I think is crucial to pick up blitzes and whatnot,” Berger said.

That started with Sunday’s practice, the first one for Bradford in purple after he was acquired in a trade Saturday morning and arrived at Winter Park on Saturday afternoon. The start of his immersion was immediate and he’s been trying to glean the similarities with what the Vikings run now and match them up with similar concepts he had with tight ends coach Pat Shurmur in Philadelphia and St. Louis.

“I think conceptually there is some carryover. There are some plays that we run that are the same, if not the exact same, but very similar to things that I’ve done in the past,” Bradford said. “Obviously the big part is the communication, the line calls, the way we call plays in the huddle, the language – it’s all different. So trying to convert it from what it was in the past to what it’s called here, that’s kind of the tough part of the process right now.”

He will be relying heavily on Berger for the protections.

“Obviously it would help a lot for him to help with some of the calls up there considering that I’ve probably only learned a few of the protections right now,” Bradford said on Monday.

Head coach Mike Zimmer said the offensive line has been better this year, but there’s always room for improvement. It will be trial under fire Sunday if Bradford is the starter.

For Berger, the more practice with Bradford the better.

“I don’t think there’s a set time. That’s why we’re out here. I think everybody is professionals. I think we’ve all got some games underneath us so I’m not expecting it to take very long,” Berger said.

“… He got here a couple days ago and we’ve got to get ready for a game. However that goes, I don’t know. You’ve got to prepare and you’ve got to communicate and know what each other is thinking.”

That’s no easy task.

Bradford is with his third team in three years, but he’s facing an immensely more condensed timetable to make it work in Minnesota. Instead of a full summer of offseason practices, training camp and preseason, he had eight days from arriving in Minnesota for the first time in his adult  life to playing for the state’s most popular sports franchise.

Everything from new teammates to a new center snapping the ball are changes in his routine. It will all start with the protection calls and then the snap into Bradford’s hands.

“It doesn’t take long; it takes time though,” Berger said of the center-quarterback exchange, which is usually a given in the NFL. “Everybody holds their hands different. Every center probably puts the ball in a little different spot and quarterbacks have different sounds. So just getting used to that, but it takes practice. That’s what we do.”

Berger joked about the shotgun snaps.

“They get the ball where it goes in shotgun. Shotgun, it’s a pretty open target there,” he said. “As long as I get them there, quarterbacks are usually pretty decent athletes so they do a good job of hanging onto the ball.”


Adding Bradford to the offense could take time. For now, the goal is to get him ready to play on Sunday, but Berger is convinced the Vikings have added a quality player by trading for Bradford.

“Anytime you bring a good player into the locker room it helps a lot,” he said. “However that shakes out or whatever, you bring a good player in, the locker room gets better.”

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