A year ago at this time, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford was a disgruntled placeholder starter in Philadelphia. After getting his contract pushed through 2017, he was dismayed when the Eagles mortgaged the future to climb to the second spot in the draft to select QB Carson Wentz.
Bradford knew that his days as a starter were numbered, but the last thing he thought was that his new lease on life with the Vikings was on the horizon. As minicamp broke, Bradford addressed the uniqueness of the 2016 season, something he didn’t fully take in until after it was done.
It was a wild ride, but one that has him excited about the prospects of a full offseason of preparation with his Vikings teammates. It was a unique season that he wasn’t expecting and it took a little time away to take it all in.
“Probably at the end of the year last year, once everything ended and calmed down, I thought about the events that had just happened and the past six or seven months and how I got here,” Bradford said. “But I would not trade it for the world. I learned a lot about myself last year. I learned a lot about being a quarterback, being a leader, being a teammate, being put in that position. I am really excited for training camp this year. It will be the first time in my career that we have ever gone away for training camp so that will be a new experience and it will be fun to get down there and get to work.”
Asked how things are different this time around, Bradford said everything is different because, not only hadn’t he gone through anything like he did last year, just about nobody in the NFL had endured the type of circumstances the Vikings did last season.
One of the biggest differences has been his increased communication with head coach Mike Zimmer.
“Last year, I think, was a little unique to everyone, so I think he was just trying to help give me some space to just allow me to spend time with Norv (Turner) and with Pat (Shurmur), just get used to the offense and try to figure out what we are doing,” Bradford said. “This year we have had a lot more conversations and it has been great. It really started when he was away those couple of weeks with his eye. We would text almost every day after practice and he would just give me some thoughts about what he saw from us on offense, what the defense was trying to do, things that we could take advantage of, things that they were trying to take away. Just having those conversations with someone on the other side of the ball, especially with someone like Coach Zimmer who has that much knowledge, and to really be able to talk defense and understand conceptually what it is they are trying to do, I think I have learned a lot the past couple of weeks about coverages, blitzes, really everything that a defense tries to do to stop an offense.”
Zimmer has said he intends to spend more time working with the offense this year to be a more well-rounded coach rather than someone who simply delegates offensive duties to his assistants.
For his part, Bradford gives a ringing endorsement to that idea.
“I think it’s great,” Bradford said. “I think the more Coach Zim can be involved with the offense, obviously I think we all love playing for him and I think we all have a great deal of respect for him, we’d run through a wall for him. To have him in our meetings, to have him come up to talk to us on the field – whether it is about football, whether it is about life, whether it is about whatever – I think to have those interactions it is good for us to be around him because he does spend a lot of time with the defense. Those guys are with him a lot, but I think this year he has been around the offense more. I think the guys have really enjoyed it.”
One of the biggest differences the Vikings will display when they return for training camp is a revamped offensive line that is going to have a lot of new faces and old faces in new places.
Bradford took a beating last year, but is encouraged with the efforts the team has made in the offseason and has welcomed his new protectors with open arms. While the hitting hasn’t started, Bradford likes what he sees so far.
“I love those guys up front,” Bradford said. “I think it is a really fun group to be around. When they come to work every day, it is time to go to work. You can just tell by their attitude in the meeting room, when we come out here for walk-through, before practice, at practice. I think there has been a level of focus, probably a little bit higher than I have seen in the past during this time of year with those guys and so it is nice to know they are taking things serious and they want to get things right.”
Given his circumstances, what Bradford accomplished on the fly with the Vikings was nothing short of astounding last year. His passer rating hovered around 100 all season and he set the NFL’s all-time record for completion percentage.
What does he do for an encore? He isn’t making any predictions, but the one thing he knows is that he will be a lot more comfortable with the system with the benefits of OTAs and camps.
Will it make a difference?
“A lot,” Bradford said. “Just being able to go through OTAs, the offseason with Pat, talk about the offense, what we are trying to do, talk about things we like from last year, concepts we felt were efficient, things we felt like we need to improve. I think that has been really big, but then also the time with everyone on the field and us going through it together, them hearing my voice in the huddle, the line of scrimmage, going through some our audibles at the line of scrimmage, some of the changes, and just getting on the same page with some of the guys out wide. Obviously we did not have an opportunity to really do any of that last year except for after practice, and at the point it is hard to play catch-up. This is the time of year you really build the foundation and so going through this offseason, being able to do it with this team, I think it is obviously going to help.”