In the rare cases when legitimate starting veteran quarterbacks move from one team to another, success doesn’t always follow immediately. That can be the case when a quarterback has an entire offseason to learn the scheme and new teammates.
Sam Bradford had 15 days from the date of his signing on Sept. 3 last year to his first start on Sept. 18. All he did was have his best season as a pro.
This year, Bradford, his teammates and Minnesota Vikings coaches are intrigued by the possibility of what Bradford might be able to do with a full offseason in a scheme that should remain familiar to him. That hasn’t been the case too often in Bradford’s career.
“I think I learned a lot about things the last year going through that, but I think it just makes me grateful to have the opportunity to be here this time of year to hopefully prepare myself as you would in a normal year to get ready to go out there and play,” Bradford said last month when he joined teammates for the start of the offseason conditioning program.
Although head coach Mike Zimmer is taking a leave absence for a few weeks to recover from his eighth eye surgery, he has already seen a change in Bradford from last year.
“I think his rapport around the players has been a little bit different. I think that part. The conversations between myself and him have been much more involved,” Zimmer told KFAN on Monday as he was heading to his ranch in Kentucky to recover. “When he got here, I was so involved with the defense and he was so involved trying to learn the offense, but we’ve had some good communication. We talk about different things. He came up to me one day when the offense was going against the offense and he said, ‘Hey, I’m tearing your defense up today.’ I said, ‘It’s not my defense, it’s our defense, OK?’ I just think he feels a lot more comfortable in the whole situation.”
This week, the Vikings start their organized team activities, the first time they will have the opportunity to work the full offense against the full defense. They do that for three weeks, then end the offseason work with a three-day minicamp, the final event before a break until the start of training camp in late July.
Stefon Diggs, who turned into Bradford’s most productive receiver in the first half of the season – before numerous injuries limited his effectiveness and availability – believes Bradford’s trial-by-fire year can be improved upon with a full offseason in the scheme.
“It’s great. We did some good things. You saw little sparks here and there and what we could achieve in this offseason and the preparation going into it,” Diggs said. “It needs to manifest.”
With Diggs’ injuries last year that caused him to miss three games, Adam Thielen emerged as another go-to option. Thielen finished with the most receptions (92) and yards (967) last year, and Thielen and Bradford had the highest quarterback-to-wide-receiver rating (122.9) in the NFL last year, according to Pro Football Focus.
“I think the later we got in the year the better I felt with it,” Bradford said of the offense. “Obviously going through the change that we did halfway through the season with having worked with Pat [Shurmur, offensive coordinator], having been with Pat before, I think that really helped me, having that relationship. I felt like we could really communicate. Towards the end of the year I felt like I had a pretty good grasp on things.”
Although Shurmur returns with many of the same concepts he employed last year, Bradford will have to get adjust to many changes in personnel. He played only two games with Adrian Peterson as his running back, but this year it will be a combination of rookie Dalvin Cook, free-agent addition Latavius Murray and returning back Jerick McKinnon.
At receiver, the Vikings added Michael Floyd to the mix and two more in the draft, along with tight end Bucky Hodges.
But the biggest change for Bradford might be the offensive line in front of him. They could have new personnel starting at four different positions and it will all take time to implement.
“Obviously excited about all the moves that they’ve made. … It’s still early, but with everybody we’ve got in the building right now I think everyone’s excited,” Bradford said.
“The meetings, the installs and to really sit down and get to learn this offense and what we’re trying to do, it’s a much better situation than showing up here however many days – eight or nine days – before the first game last year and trying to kind of learn everything on the fly.”