MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said last week he didn’t expect the muscle tightness that limited Sam Bradford during the final week of OTAs to keep the quarterback out of the team’s mandatory minicamp. The Vikings certainly will hope to have a full slate of work from their starter during the most important week of their offseason program.
Even after throwing for a career-high 3,877 yards and setting a NFL single-season record for completion percentage last season, Bradford finds himself at the controls of an offense that’s still trying to find its foundation. The Vikings have a deeper and more versatile set of weapons than they did last year, having replaced Adrian Peterson with two running backs (Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook) who should be better receivers. The team is hoping for a downfield presence from wide receiver Michael Floyd, some consistency from Laquon Treadwell and, perhaps most vitally, a sturdy offensive line after the additions of Riley Reiff, Mike Remmers and third-round pick Pat Elflein.
Much remains to be settled for an offense that ranked 28th in total yards last season, and after last September’s trade from Philadelphia put Bradford in hyperdrive in 2016, he’s had an offseason to put his stamp on the Vikings’ offense.
“It has been huge,” wide receiver Adam Thielen said. “It is crazy because during the season, it was almost like he had been there all offseason, so for us now to have an offseason on top of that, what we did last year, it is great. Obviously him talking to us, telling us how he likes things done, how we like things done, kind of getting on the same page. That is what this is all about. I think we have gotten off to a great start.”
Zimmer said Bradford has taken on “more of an ownership role” in the offense this offseason, which seems natural after a season in which the quarterback was trying to acclimate himself to a new city, coaching staff, locker room and offense in a matter of weeks. Bradford’s contract status remains unresolved beyond this season, and Teddy Bridgewater’s comeback has loomed in the background of the Vikings’ offseason program. But the 2017 Vikings offense will be Bradford’s, and this week’s minicamp provides his last chance to help mold things before the team reconvenes in Mankato, Minnesota, for training camp in late July.
Here are four other things to watch at the Vikings’ minicamp, which runs Tuesday through Thursday:
Opportunities for young corners — The Vikings have given 38-year-old Terence Newman plenty of work as their top nickel cornerback this offseason as they look to replace Captain Munnerlyn, but second-year corner Mackensie Alexander will get his chances to earn the full-time job. And with Newman moving inside, 2015 first-rounder Trae Waynes is getting an opportunity to prove he can become the team’s permanent left cornerback in his third season. If Waynes can develop in 2017, the Vikings would have quite the foundation for their secondary between him, Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith.
Floyd gets up to speed — Even though he’s been able to work out with the team only since the start of OTAs, Floyd has earned plaudits from teammates for how quickly he’s picked up the offense. Treadwell has received more opportunities this spring, but Floyd could provide more of a vertical threat than the second-year receiver (or possibly anyone else on the roster, for that matter). He could miss the start of the season if the NFL hands down a suspension following his December arrest for DUI, but Floyd’s best chance to secure a significant role in the offense is between now and the end of the preseason.
Who replaces Greenway? — Edmond Robinson is getting his chances at weak-side linebacker as the Vikings look to fill the spot vacated by the retired Chad Greenway. Emmanuel Lamur will have an opportunity to win the job, too, though Zimmer has sounded pleased with Robinson’s development in his third year. Neither player figures to be on the field for more than a fraction of the Vikings’ snaps, given how much time the team will spend in the nickel package with Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks on the field, but a linebacker who holds up well in pass coverage could give the Vikings some additional flexibility to stay in their base defense more often.
Moving pieces on the O-line — While Nick Easton has received plenty of first-team snaps to this point, Elflein could push him for the starting center spot. Joe Berger could be back at center, too, if the Vikings feel comfortable enough with their options at guard to play the 35-year-old where he started last season. Center and right guard are the two spots the Vikings need to figure out between now and the start of the season, and while they’ll know more once padded practices start at training camp, it’s worth watching how they set the line at the end of their offseason program since that configuration could be the one they use to begin camp in July.