With minicamp complete and a little over a month until the Vikings head to Mankato for training camp, all the focus appears to be on Adrian Peterson. How many yards will he rush for? How will Norv Turner use him out of the backfield? Will he be the same after missing a year?
They’re valid questions, but the success of the Vikings does not rest solely on Adrian Peterson’s massive shoulders. Although Peterson single-handedly carried the offense in 2012 — thanks, Christian Ponder — he’s surrounded by more talent than he’s seen in his 9 years with the Vikings, and that starts with the man he’ll be lining up behind — Teddy Bridgewater.
After a promising rookie season, Bridgewater is expected to “make the leap”, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him land atop NFL.com’s infamous rankings this offseason. Last year, he started 12 games for the Vikings, threw 14 touchdowns, and finished with a 6-6 record under center.
His stats don’t “wow” on paper (2,919 yards, 85.2 quarterback rating), but the poise, decision-making, and maturity he displayed behind a rickety offensive line are hard to dismiss. Heck, he did it all without Peterson, who looks to add yet another element to Norv Turner’s attack in 2015.
In those 12 starts, Bridgewater threw 14 touchdowns — good for 1.167 touchdowns per game — which would give him an estimated 18 touchdowns in a full season as the team’s quarterback. His top targets were Greg Jennings (since departed), Jarius Wright, Charles Johnson, and Kyle Rudolph, and his running backs were primarily Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon.
This offseason, Rick Spielman and his staff set out to surround Bridgewater with the talent he’d need to unlock the offense’s full potential. In March, they bid Jennings goodbye and replaced him with Mike Wallace, one of the league’s fastest receivers and a legitimate deep threat. At running back, they held their ground and forced Adrian Peterson’s return to Minnesota. And in the draft, they acquired MyCole Pruitt, a Swiss Army Knife of a tight end who will likely start the season behind Kyle Rudolph.
The offensive line is still in flux, but Spielman again used the draft to shore up depth. According to reports, rookie Tyrus Thompson has taken the majority of first-team reps at right guard, and fourth-round selection T.J. Clemmings has rotated all over the right side of the line. Matt Kalil will welcome the presence of former right guard Brandon Fusco at left guard, making this a stronger, more cohesive line on paper.
But what does this mean for Teddy Bridgewater?
He’s grown with a year of football under his belt — highlight videos, press conferences, and photos from camp show a relaxed Bridgewater, a player comfortable as the team’s leader. He’s surrounded by a talented, young roster ready to build on last year’s surprising success. He has the support of the franchise, including head coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
If last year’s 14 touchdowns were an indication of Bridgewater’s progress, it wouldn’t be a stretch for him to add at least six touchdowns to last year’s total. With Adrian Peterson back in the mix, many expect the Vikings to pound the ball, but reports indicate they want to limit Peterson’s workload. For comparison’s sake, a look at team rushing attempts in 2013 (with Peterson) vs. 2014 (without Peterson):
- 2013: 423 attempts for 2,081 yards (4.9 yards per rush)
- 2014: 413 attempts for 1,804 yards (4.3 yards per rush)
The numbers aren’t dramatically different, and Turner may find ways to use both Peterson and McKinnon as receivers out of the backfield. With a slew of weapons, including Wallace, Johnson, Rudolph, Pruitt, and a revitalized (cross your fingers) Cordarrelle Patterson, Bridgewater will have plenty of places to throw the football — and throw touchdowns.
Yes, Adrian Peterson is the star of the Vikings’ offense. But Teddy Bridgewater is talented enough to carry a team, and he’ll have a shot at improving on his solid rookie statistics in 2015. A number of new pass-catchers, the return of a threatening running game, and an improved offensive line are reason enough to warrant optimism heading into training camp.
I’ll set the over/under at 22 and ask our poll question of the week: