MINNEAPOLIS—The quarterback who had to do everything on fast-forward last year — learn a new offence eight days before the season, deliver the ball in two seconds or less behind a ramshackle line — had the perfect metaphor for his first year with the Vikings.
“(It’s) like the first time you drive a car — you’re freaked out,” Sam Bradford said. “I was comfortable; you have to be comfortable to be out there to go play. But last year, there was still a lot of thinking going on. I just said 15 words in the huddle, but what do those words mean?
“Now, when you get to the line, you can skip steps 1 through 3. You can start at step 4.”
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If what the Vikings have planned for this offence works, it won’t only be Bradford taking giant strides. When Minnesota hosts New Orleans on Monday night, the offence will be calibrated, for the first time in a decade, around something other than a preternaturally talented running back in Adrian Peterson.
The two newest members of the Vikings’ three-man backfield — free-agent addition Latavius Murray and second-round pick Dalvin Cook — will be expected to log frequent shotgun carries, catch passes out of the backfield and pick up blitzes, all while being compensated at prices just above (in Murray’s case) or well below the NFL average.
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The $36.8 million the Vikings guaranteed tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers was meant to shore up the team’s 32nd-ranked running game, yes, but it was done in the hope that a balanced offence would give Bradford more time to throw downfield.
And, at the heart of it all, is Bradford, who has the offensive co-ordinator (Pat Shurmur) who groomed him in both St. Louis and Philadelphia, and perhaps the best supporting cast of his nomadic seven-year career.
“You want to see the desire to constantly improve, to constantly get better, and when they’re adding pieces throughout free agency, throughout the draft, it gets you excited to get back and get to work,” said Bradford, who turns 30 in November.
There’s still the question, of course, of whether it will all pan out.
The first-team offence is coming off a tepid pre-season, having produced only three points in 12 drives. Bradford completed 74.4 per cent of his passes but was sacked five times, as lingering injuries prevented the new starting offensive line — from left, Reiff, Nick Easton, Pat Elflein, Joe Berger and Remmers — from playing together.
Of those five players, only Berger, who got five starts at right guard last year, is in the same place he ended 2016.
If an overhaul was needed, there was no point in being subtle about it.
“We got to a point last year where our passing game was essentially an extension of our running game,” Bradford said. “We were calling pass plays that were essentially designed to be effective run plays. We were calling pass plays to gain five yards, to gain six yards. I think there will still be some of that, but I really think this offence is going to be more balanced this year.”
It was clear well before Feb. 28, when the Vikings announced they wouldn’t exercise Peterson’s $18 million option for 2017. Minnesota, with Shurmur, wanted its running backs to do more than one thing.
“Defences are too good,” Shurmur said. “So if they know there’s a player in the game that can only do one thing, and can’t do another, it kind of tips the scales in their favour.”