While the Minnesota Vikings don’t plan to announce which of their two quarterbacks on the active roster – Shaun Hill or Sam Bradford – will start on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, there are some advantages and indications that it could be Hill’s job this week.
Experience in the offensive system gives the obvious advantage to Hill, who has been in Norv Turner’s system since signing with the Vikings in March 2015. Bradford, meanwhile, was acquired on Saturday in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner has prepared quarterbacks on short notice before, but he couldn’t recall one starting for him only a week into his immersion into a new offense.
“I’ve been in this situation a couple times. My first year in Dallas, we traded for Steve Beuerlein on Tuesday and he was prepared to be a backup. We brought Bernie Kosar in on a Tuesday night and he didn’t start,” Turner said. “He ended up playing a lot of the game. We played Arizona and Troy Aikman had a pulled hamstring and missed a couple of games and Bernie handled it great. Very similar in terms of this. (Bradford) is a veteran player that had been involved in different systems and picked it pretty quick.”
But asked if this would be the quickest turnaround he has experienced for a starter – if Bradford starts – there may have been a clue in his answer.
“Yeah, whichever way it goes. I think the situations could be very similar to what I’ve been through in the past,” Turner said. “As coach has said, we’re getting both these guys ready to start.”
In addition to the advantage with time in the offense Hill has on Bradford, there is also the challenge for Bradford to deal with whatever veteran defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has his Titans preparing for in Tennessee.
“They give you some very unique looks,” Turner said.
Titans head coach Mike Mularkey said he expects the Vikings to start Bradford because of what they traded away – a first-round pick next year and a conditional fourth-round pick – to obtain him. But, ultimately, it will come down to Bradford’s preparedness in the system and the coaching staff’s confidence in that.
The learning curve will certainly be steep for Bradford in eight days of an offense that some players have called “complicated.”
“We’ve got to do things he’s comfortable with and there’s things we’re doing here that he did in Philadelphia. He’s got to learn our code names and that type of thing,” Turner said of Bradford. “But I think we’ve found a way to broaden our offense, and when Adrian (Peterson) is going and playing we do know that it starts with him. That’s the approach we’re going to take, whether it’s Shaun or Sam.”
Turner said the Vikings have scaled back the number of plays they will bring into Sunday’s game, taking away parts from the third-down offense, red zone plays and other areas. That might be the case whether it is Bradford or Hill.
But Hill has the advantage of working with those plays for two years; Bradford only a week. Having the recall come quickly enough while on the field would be asking a lot, especially while trying to enact audibles and adjust protections.
The challenges for Bradford are many.
“There’s two things to me. The verbiage – and a lot of people run a lot of the same plays – it’s the verbiage and knowing which words go with which plays, but then getting on the field, our guys might do things – it might be the same play, but our guys might do it differently than where he’s been before,” Turner said. “It’s more about getting caught up with the personnel than anything else. I think the verbiage part of it because he’s an experienced veteran and learning the system and learning the plays is the easier part than getting in sync with the guys on the field on a play-to-play basis.
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“Shaun has run every third-down play we have in our package since two years ago, so not only the play going in, the speed of the third-down situation, the play getting called, lining up, the defense giving you – Tennessee is a multiple-look defense, they give a lot of different looks. There’s a lot of things being processed that Shaun has been doing for two years and Sam has been doing for four days, so that would be a big part of it.”
Ultimately, the Vikings are trying to keep their quarterback decision quiet, if it has even been made yet. Whether the indicators are smokescreens or not may have to wait until Sunday.