EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —The Vikings benefitted multiple times from an oft-overlooked or seldom shown aspect of Kyle Rudolph for solid gains last week against the Cowboys.
The quarterback used mobility — by design and necessity during drives.
Minnesota ran play action with a naked bootleg to his left in the first quarter for a play that resulted in a 17-yard completion to Kyle Rudolph. The play helped set up the Vikings first of three field goals by Kai Forbath.
Bradford later tucked and ran for a gain of 10 in the third quarter and had two completions after scrambles during Minnesota's touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
Vikings Interim Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur, who previously also coached Bradford in St. Louis and Philadelphia, said, "I think Sam doesn't really get credit for being able to move around much" because he doesn't do it frequently.
"He's got a good set of legs on him and he uses them well in terms of being able to run. We called some nakeds that got him outside of the pocket intentionally," Shurmur said. "Then you saw the other night when he was able to escape the pocket and make plays. Those are really damaging to the defense. They feel like they've got you, and then all of a sudden, you're out making plays with your feet. I think Sam has the ability to do that. Sometimes it's designed and sometimes it's forced. We had both scenarios the other night."
Bradford said the escape and 10-yard gain that helped counter a blitz by the Cowboys was "just one of those things."
"I felt like the rush just kind of got past me, and a lane opened up," Bradford said. "And it just kind of flashed, and I just took off. It was just really kind of a reaction."
The two plays on the final possession were critical. Bradford evaded a free rusher with a spin move and again ran to his left as Adam Thielen worked his way across the field for a gain of 18 to start the drive. Three plays later, Bradford evaded to his right to keep the play alive as Stefon Diggs worked through two defenders for a gain of 15.
Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who missed Thursday's game while recovering from emergency eye surgery the previous night, said an offense is helped "any time you can move a little bit in the pocket."
"It helps the rush slow down a little bit, and it also helps keep the defense off balance some," Zimmer said.
Zimmer and the Vikings must contend with the mobility of Jacksonville's Blake Bortles on Sunday. Bortles ranks third in the NFL in rushing yards by a quarterback this season (323 yards on 47 attempts).
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott rushed six times for 37 yards that included a 14-yard scramble to convert a third-and-13 during Dallas' first touchdown drive.
The previous week, Matthew Stafford rushed four times for 30 yards. The scrambles included a gain of 6 on a second-and-10 in the red zone during the Lions opening touchdown drive, an 11-yarder on a third-and-10 in the second quarter and 15-yarder on third-and-15 early in the fourth quarter.
Zimmer said preventing scrambles is "another area we have to get corrected" in reference to what Prescott was able to do.
As for Bortles, Zimmer said, "He's got a big, strong arm. He's an athlete."
"He's been making a lot of plays with his legs," Zimmer added. "The scramble tape this week is twice as big as any other tape. He can make all of throws. He's got a good, strong arm, big rangy athlete."
Zimmer on safeties in reserve
Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith, who leads the Vikings with 97 tackles, missed practice for a second straight day because of an ankle injury.
If Smith is unable to play Sunday, the Vikings could turn to first-year pro Anthony Harris or rookie Jayron Kearse. The Vikings used a combination of the two to fill in for Andrew Sendejo earlier this season.
Zimmer was asked about the toughest aspect of Smith's game to replace.
"It's not so much the communication," Zimmer said. "He's a playmaker. He sees stuff and goes and gets it. I guess that would be it."
Kearse spoke with members of the media on Wednesday, and Harris spoke on Thursday.
Harris and cornerback Trae Waynes started at safety for the Vikings at Arizona nearly a year ago because of injuries. He said he's much more comfortable now because of a full year of reps in the system and will be ready if needed.
"He's a tough guy, mentally and physically, so we're going to go day-by-day, and I'll continue to prepare, go with the flow and see what happens," Harris said.
Zimmer assessed Kearse and Harris:
"I think Kearse will be a good player. But at this point … it's funny because in the preseason he was just going and playing," Zimmer said. "Now he's playing a little tight, and that's the difference in the way he's been. He's trying to be perfect all the time instead of just cutting it loose.
"Anthony is a little quicker with understanding the different nuances of things he has to do," Zimmer added. "I think that's a little bit of second-year/first-year (experience)."
Nick Easton missed last week's game against Dallas and also did not participate in Thursday's practice because of a concussion. Nick Easton made his first start at center against the Cowboys.
Shurmur was asked about the 12-year pro and Easton, who has appeared in seven games this season.
"Well, I think when Joe was in there he did a good job of directing us," Shurmur said. "He's a very veteran guy that has played well for many years. So, when a guy like that leaves, I played center myself so I know the importance of being able to go in there and direct things. I thought Nick [Easton] did a good job by replacing Joe, and he'll be one week better this week."
Optimistic for Sherels
Marcus Sherels may be underrated by some but not in the Vikings locker room. Sherels has missed four games because of multiple injuries this season, and Minnesota has dropped all four.
Sherels is averaging 13.4 yards per punt return this season and has touchdowns in wins at Carolina (54 yards) and against Houston (79 yards). The Vikings have used a combination of Thielen, Diggs and Cordarrelle Patterson to return punts, but they have a combined 53 yards on 12 returns (4.4 average).
"Since Sherels hasn't been in there, the punt return game hasn't been near as good, so we need to correct those things and stop the penalties (during returns and coverage of kicks)," Zimmer said.
View the top contributors for the Jacksonville Jaguars on offense, defense and special teams before the Vikings Sunday matchup at EverBank Field.
For the Vikings: Smith, Danielle Hunter (knee) and Berger did not participate. Anthony Harris (hamstring), Everson Griffen (hip), Tom Johnson (toe) and Marcus Sherels (rib) were limited. Stefon Diggs (knee) and Mackensie Alexander (ankle) fully participated.
For the Jaguars: WR Allen Hurns (hamstring), C Brandon Linder (ankle), DE Jared Odrick (shoulder), RB Denard Robinson (ankle) and TE Julius Thomas (back) did not participate. DB Peyton Thompson (ankle), T Kelvin Beachum (knee), RB Chris Ivory (hamstring) and LB Dan Skuta (elbow) were limited. QB Blake Bortles (right shoulder), OL Luke Bowanko (hip), DE Dante Fowler, Jr. (shoulder), DE Yannick Ngakoue (ankle), TE Neal Sterling (hip) and RB T.J. Yeldon (ankle) fully participated.