MANKATO, Minn. –Sam Bradford didn't know what to expect when he steered onto the campus of Mankato State University, Mankato on Wednesday.
What he discovered was a sea of Purple that stretched nearly the entire length of the sidewalk outside Julia Sears Residence Hall.
"I thought it was really cool today to pull in and see all of our fans out there," Bradford said. "I think that's pretty special, and it just speaks to how great our fans are."
After joining the Vikings on Sept. 3 through a whirlwind trade following Teddy Bridgewater's season-ending knee injury, Bradford has enjoyed his first offseason in Minnesota. The quarterback was grateful for the Organized Team Activity practices and minicamp this year — opportunities he didn't have with the Vikings last year.
Training camp is that next step.
"This is the first time that I've been on a team where we've gone away for training camp," said Bradford, who previously spent time in St. Louis and Philadelphia. "So it's a little bit different coming down here and walking into a dorm room for the first time since college."
Bradford's warm welcome was returned by the passer, who came outside after checking in and signed autographs for eager fans. Bridgewater also greeted fans and stopped to add his signature to a number of footballs, photos and helmets on his way into the dorm. Fans have followed Bridgewater's rehab through posts by the quarterback on his Instagram account.
Bradford said during a podium session with members of the media that the enthusiasm and support made him that much more excited to get on the football field.
"When you see that, it kind of gets you fired up to get out there and get going," he said.
Bradford told media members that he felt positive about the team's spring work and was ready to build on the foundation that was built.
He stressed the importance of communication.
"Make sure that we're all speaking the same language, making sure that we're all seeing things the same way and that we're on the same page," Bradford said. "Whether it be in protection with the line, whether it be in route running with the wide receivers, protection with the backs. Just making sure that when we call a play and we step up to the line, that we all know our assignment and that we're all expecting each other to do the right thing and the same thing."
Bradford said that in working with returning players like Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs or when building a rapport with new faces, effective communication leads to a trust that's crucial between a quarterback and his receivers.
Bradford said it's important to count on his receivers to come out of a route where he expects them to, and in turn, the receivers expect the ball to be thrown a certain way and placed exactly where they need it.
"I think there's a lot to be said for that chemistry," Bradford said. "And I think this time of year, it's really something you try to work on and keep building."
As the Vikings prepare for their first full-team practice of training camp on Thursday afternoon, Bradford isn't the only one unfamiliar with the experience. He will also be working with a new-look backfield that includes rookie running back Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray, whom the Vikings signed in free agency.
Both are players that Bradford called "extremely talented."
"Just being able to watch Dalvin and what he did during the spring, I think he showed some flashes of his potential," Bradford said. "Obviously it will be exciting to get Latavius out there and see what he can do. Just from watching from afar what he was able to do in Oakland, I think that he's a very good football player."
View images of the second-wave of players that reported to training camp on Wednesday morning.
He added that it's also positive to have running back Jerick McKinnon returning as a versatile player who has demonstrated strength in protection, running routes and catching the ball.
"I think that position, the chemistry is going to be really strong for us," Bradford said.
The Vikings are also kicking off their first training camp with Pat Shumur as Offensive Coordinator. Shurmur coached tight ends in Mankato last summer and later took over the coordinator role in November when Norv Turner resigned.
Bradford said he and Shurmur have been working throughout the spring on potential add-ons for the 2017 playbook in addition to retaining things that worked well last season.
"Once we find what we feel will be our identity and what we're going to do, just fine-tuning that and making sure we're as sharp as we can be with that," Bradford said. "This year, hopefully we can be a little bit more balanced with some of the quick game, some of the deeper shots down the field, maybe incorporate some of the play action."
The Vikings started the 2016 season 5-0, with Bradford in the huddle for four of those contests, before struggling after the bye week and finishing the year 8-8.
Looking ahead to his second season in Purple, Bradford has set his expectations high.
"Everything's in front of us right now – I think an opportunity to be a great team," Bradford said. "I think we have a lot to do. I think we had a great spring, I think we kind of laid the foundation there, [and] we need to look to build upon that."
Added Bradford: "So it's just coming out, keeping that hunger, and playing the way we know we can play."