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Monday Morning Mailbag: Passing Game Improvement

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A lot of people have really knocked Teddy's deep ball and arm strength and I don't really see why. I think anyone who has watched his games so far can see that usually the problem was overthrowing the receiver, so to me arm strength isn't the problem. He seems to have the arm strength to make every NFL throw. I think the problem is touch. How has he looked so far going deep this offseason? Obviously, they've been in shorts with little contact so it's not a fair gauge but if he's going to excel on the field, he has to excel in practice. -- Alec D Brooklyn Park, MN

Bridgewater looked good this offseason and there's been marked improvement with the deep passing game. It is interesting that Alec brings up touch, though, because in my interview with QBs coach Scott Turner that was posted on vikings.com last week, Turner explained that one aspect of the deep passing game that was a point of emphasis this offseason was delivering the ball to the right catch point for the receivers. It sounds like Bridgewater has improved in that area, too, and so at the end of the day I think we'll see the Vikings produce more explosive plays in the passing game in 2016.

Keep in mind, though, that Bridgewater was a successful Division I quarterback who was selected with a first-round pick and has accumulated a 17-11 record with a division title through his first two pro seasons. All of that doesn't happen to a quarterback who doesn't have adequate arm strength or who has significant issues with touch passes. Certainly Bridgewater can improve in all of those areas plus many others as he enters just his third season, but I don't think there's anything about his skill set that will hold him back from becoming a great quarterback. Adrian Peterson said this offseason that he "sees greatness in [Bridgewater's] eyes." I agree with Adrian.

Including the playoff game last year, the Vikings lost by three points or fewer in three of their six losses. In the upcoming season, I see the Vikings making the next step against the "contenders" and winning those close games. Do you agree? -- John Walvatne Fargo, ND

There's no question that winning close games is important in the NFL and is something that the vast majority of teams who made deep postseason runs are able to do consistently. Keep in mind, though, the Vikings did win their fair share of close games. Four of the Vikings 11 wins in 2015 were by one possession and two of them were by three points. So while the Vikings could've had a game or two go their way last year that wound up going to the opposition, there were also a few games that did go the Vikings way that could just as easily gone the other way. At the end of the day, winning those close games is important and I do feel that the Vikings have the coaching staff and the players in place to execute well down the stretch in close games. Certainly playing in (and winning) as many close games as they did last year will do nothing but help a fairly young roster improve in those same scenarios in 2016.

Do you think our defensive front gets enough pressure on the QB? -- Chad Canesi

Pressuring the quarterback is such an important part of playing defense in today's NFL that I don't think a team would ever acknowledge they're getting enough pressure. It's no coincidence that of teams ranked in the top 12 in sacks, nine of them made the playoffs. For defenses, quarterback pressure is like money – you always want more. But I would say the Vikings defense was pretty good in this department last season, totaling 43 sacks to rank tied for ninth in the League. With all main contributors from last season's front seven coming back, there's no reason to think the Vikings can't improve in this category.

Does running backs coach Kevin Stefanski have Tiki Barber's phone number on speed dial to talk about the four points of contact technique if Adrian suffers from acute fumblitis? -- Mike Gulbranson San Antonio, TX

I have every bit of confidence in Peterson to correct any ball security issues he had last year and drastically reduce his fumble total in 2016. The reason for this is not blind faith or loyalty toward Peterson, rather it's his past performance with fumbles. Peterson has had fumbling issues in the past, putting the ball on the ground 18 times in a 34-game span during the 2008 and 2009 seasons. But he came back with only 11 fumbles in the following 58 games, proving that he identified the problem and was able to correct it. Peterson did have eight fumbles in 17 games last year, but I suspect that, given his competitiveness and determination to never stop improving, he'll bounce back and dramatically reduce that total in 2016.

Do you know much about the development of Taylor Heinicke? Shaun Hill has the experience needed to hold down a backup role, but do you think Taylor has the ability to make the jump into the #2 spot in the depth chart by the end of training camp/preseason? -- Glenn Johnson

I do know that Heinicke has improved a lot during his 15 months on the job with the Vikings and it appears there's more room for growth in 2016. Going back to the interview with Scott Turner that I cited in the first question of this mailbag, you can tell Turner enjoys coaching Heinicke and feels like the Old Dominion product has a chance to carve out a nice career in the NFL. I do think Heinicke has the ability to be the Vikings #2 quarterback, but I'm not convinced he'll be out Hill for that job this year. Hill provides a lot of value for the Vikings, and it's not just in mentoring the Vikings young QBs. Turner said Hill's "mind works quickly" and I still get the sense Hill is the favorite to be the team's backup. But that decision won't be made in today's Mailbag; it'll be made based on how the training camp practices and preseason games go.

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