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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: Bridgewater must make significant strides, if Vikings’ offense is going to show necessary improvement

By Judd Zulgad

Adrian Peterson went into the offseason vowing to become a more complete player. The Vikings spent much of their money in free agency trying to upgrade an offensive line that far too often was woeful in 2015. The team used its first-round pick on wide receiver Laquon Treadwell after releasing veteran Mike Wallace following one disappointing season.

All of these things are considered to be of significant importance in the conversation of whether the Vikings’ offense will be improved this season.

If Peterson can be better in pass protection and catching the ball, it will help quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. If the offense line does a better job of blocking, it will help Bridgewater. If Treadwell turns into the type of reliable target that Wallace failed to become, it will help Bridgewater.

But what can’t be overlooked is that Bridgewater, entering his third season, also is going to be expected to take major step forward. This is the season in which we need to see evidence that this is going to be Bridgewater’s offense.

Peterson will continue to play a big role but this could be his final season in Minnesota. He is due a $6 million roster bonus on the third day of the league year next March, if the Vikings keep him, and his base salary for 2017 would be an eye-popping $11.75 million. If the Vikings cut him after this season, they would owe him nothing.

Bridgewater, whom the Vikings took with the 32nd pick of the 2014 draft after trading back into the first round, has thrown 14 touchdown passes in each of his first two seasons with 21 interceptions, including nine last year.

He has been criticized for his lack of arm strength and for some of his decision-making, but Bridgewater did start 16 games last season for a team that went 11-5 and won its first NFC North title since 2009.

While the record was a success, the Vikings ranked 29th in total offense and 31st, or second-to-last, in passing offense and passing touchdowns. Bridgewater ranked 22nd among NFL quarterbacks with 3,231 passing yards and his 202 passing yards per game ranked him ahead of only the Rams’ Nick Foles (187) and the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick (179).

Peterson helped make up for this during the regular season by rushing for an NFL-leading 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer knows the passing game must improve if the franchise is going to make a deep playoff run anytime soon. That’s why general manager Rick Spielman signed left guard Alex Boone to a four-year, $26.8 million contract ($10 million in guarantees) in March, and also brought right tackle Andre Smith aboard on a one-year, $3.5 million deal.

Treadwell might not be the deep threat that Wallace was expected to provide, but he should be a better match for what Bridgewater can do in the passing game and the expectation is that Treadwell and Stefon Diggs will form the type of 1-2 punch that will make life more difficult on defenses.

There also was the decision to hire Pat Shurmur and Tony Sparano, who both have been head coaches and offensive coordinators in the NFL. Shurmur was given the title of tight ends coach and Sparano was put in charge of the offensive line. Don’t be fooled, though, because both will have their voices heard loud and clear in meetings with offensive coordinator Norv Turner and you can bet there will be a few new wrinkles because of their presence.

One of the main problems for the Vikings last season was that the coaching staff did not realize Bridgewater and Peterson weren’t a good fit until Minnesota looked dismal in a loss at San Francisco in the regular-season opener.

Bridgewater was better out of the shot gun, and Peterson, coming off what amounted to a one-year suspension, clearly was more comfortable when his quarterback was lined up under center and then handed him the ball.

Much of the focus this offseason, from this corner at least, has been on the fact that Peterson is at a stage of his career were he owes it to the Vikings to become a more complete player. That remains the feeling – although there’s skepticism that will happen — but it should not be dismissed that Bridgewater also needs to be able to thrive in situations where he’s not always comfortable.

Assuming the offensive line improves, Bridgewater will be expected to develop a better chemistry with his tight ends, starting with Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph caught 49 passes last season, the second-highest total of his career, but his five touchdown catches were four off his career high. The Vikings often were forced to keep a tight end in last season to help with blocking but if the line can do its job that should free up Rudolph to catch more passes.

Then there are Bridgewater’s mechanics.

Zimmer said at the end of last season that Bridgewater needed to work on his throwing motion and come over the top “a little bit more” rather than dropping down to a three-quarters motion that can get the ball batted down.

Becoming a successful NFL quarterback isn’t easy, and the immediate pressure put on young players at that position is often unfair and counterproductive. But Bridgewater will turn 24 in November and he enters this season having started 28 NFL games.

It’s not unreasonable to expect that this experience, and a better supporting cast, will result in him making substantial strides this season.

The post Zulgad: Bridgewater must make significant strides, if Vikings’ offense is going to show necessary improvement appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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