While the offense hasn’t necessarily changed, the Vikings adopted code words to simplify an admittedly wordy offense in Norv Turner’s numbers-based offensive system.
“We’ve continued to use code names. It’s pretty creative, and some guys are really good at coming up with different names,” Turner said. “You want time together, but yeah, we’ve started using code names.”
Since Bradford was acquired only eight days before the Vikings’ season opener after a knee injury ended Teddy Bridgewater’s 2016 season before it began, “time together” was in short supply as the team tried to ready Bradford for on-field duty.
The idea of using codes isn’t new. Turner saw it employed with his system by assistants that moved on to other jobs. Rob Chudzinski was the tight ends coach and assistant head coach under Turner in San Diego for two years and used code words to simplify the offense for Cam Newton when Chudzinski was the offensive coordinator with the Carolina Panthers from 2011-2012.
Chudzinski, Vikings quarterbacks coach Scott Turner and Norv Turner were in Cleveland together in 2013 when Chudzinski was the head coach and Norv got the chance to see what Chudzinski had done with it there.
“When I first saw it, I said, ‘What have you guys done to this offense that I’ve been coaching for 25 years?’” Turner said.
The offense is essentially the same, but a complex set of numbers and assignments were then boiled down to one word.
“If you can go out and call a play, and you call a formation, and you use a one-word name - warrior for example, dodge, warrior - you’ve called the protection, you’ve called the route for everybody. That makes everything faster,” Turner said. “Now, it puts a burden on the players, because they have to respond to the code names. That play, warrior, that play when we ran it in San Diego was ‘5-72 F9 swing.’ So, it was ‘gone right 5-72 H-arrow F9 swing.’ So, warrior is much easier, but the numbering system and calling it tells everyone what to do. There’s give and take, and our guys have really handled the names well. They’ve taken it on themselves to learn them and respond, and we’ve had very few mental errors with the names.”
But with the change came complications, too. For one, other players used to the longer verbiage had to learn the code word and associate it with their part of the assignment on that play.
The Vikings have also had to switch up the code words from week to week so as to not give away the play if they are barking it out at the line of scrimmage in a hurry-up offense, especially when playing against the Carolina Panthers, who were used to the code words from Chudzinski’s time there.
Vkings head coach Mike Zimmer admitted that some of their offensive play calls were “kind of wordy” and believes shortening them not only helps Bradford but also can help the coaches get the call relayed from Norv Turner in the press box to Scott Turner on the sideline and into Bradford on the field.
“As you’ve seen, we’ve been going (up) tempo during games. Sometimes we get on the ball and it’s a lot easier to do that,” Zimmer said. “We had code words before, but it’s a lot easier to get it in and out of the huddle if you’re going no-huddle and stuff like that.”
While the call may be quicker to make, it still requires a translation process. One word will trigger the entire play, but a wide receiver, for instance, will need to remember his route combination on that play.
“You’d like them to know what to do when they start to hear the numbers, because they’re the same plays over and over again, but no question,” Turner said. “If you’re using code names, and then you’re not using the same code names every week - or you’re playing someone in your division or you’re playing someone like when we played Carolina - there’s a lot of the same code names, so we had to change some of them. Because you certainly don’t want to tell them what you’re doing.”
Zimmer said the use of codes words is “pretty much going all over” the NFL these days and is especially useful in no-huddle situations.
On defense, he said, that’s not necessary because the play calls aren’t as extensive.
“We’re not very smart. I’m not very smart so we have to do things simple,” he joked.
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Bradford said the crossover and translation from one system to the next hasn’t caused him to make the wrong play call in a game situation, at least not yet, but he’s thankful that the coaches have tried to simplify things for him.
“They’ve been awesome. Obviously, when I got here I was having a hard time just calling the plays. They were a little bit wordy. Obviously, everything was new,” he said. “They’ve been awesome in code-wording things, things that I’ve done in the past, and trying to incorporate those into the offense. Things that I feel comfortable with. I’ve spent a lot of time with Scott Turner. He’s done a great job just helping me get comfortable in this system.”