View some of the top images from Saturday's night practice. Full gallery coming Sunday.
MANKATO, Minn. — Teddy Bridgewater has spoken about how he wants to play faster and get the ball to receivers quicker in his second season, and the Vikings focus on red zone and two-minute work in Saturday's night practice provided a great opportunity to do so.
"It's all about being great in situational football, and that's how teams can have success in this league," Bridgewater said. "We know that some of the top 10 offenses in this league, it's not all about the yardage and everything. It's about being precise on third downs and executing in the red zone, staying on the field and keeping drives alive, so to be able to come out (Saturday) and practice those situations is going to be huge for us coming forward."
The reduction in real estate inside the 20-yard line creates a need for offenses to be speedy when they enter the red zone. The only thing more important, however, is protecting the ball to maximize scoring chances.
One particular series from Saturday night — an evening filled with cheers, oohs, aahs and an occasional ugh from 10,300 fans who packed Blakeslee Stadium at Minnesota State University, Mankato — showed a nice recovery on the third snap.
On first down, Bridgewater didn't like his options and scrambled — which could have led to a sack if tackling, or a throw away to play another down. The next snap, however, was a fumbled exchange, which has been rare in camp and is something that can't happen for the Vikings when they move inside an opponent's 20. Unflustered, Bridgewater calmly put great touch on a fade route to Charles Johnson for a touchdown on the following snap. Johnson created more separation than receivers usually do against Xavier Rhodes, which is another encouraging sign of Johnson's potential with benefit of a full offseason.
"Charles is sharp in his route running, has strong hands, he comes down with it, catches in traffic and that's what you love as a quarterback," Bridgewater said.
Bridgewater appeared comfortable working to his right or left inside the red zone. He executed throws on out patterns by keeping the ball away from defensive backs on the inside and had completions to each receiver that had first-team reps (Johnson, Mike Wallace, Jarius Wright and Adam Thielen) and mentioned he liked what he saw out of Stefon Diggs and Cordarrelle Patterson in working with Shaun Hill, a 14-year veteran in his second tenure with the Vikings.
Bridgewater said he's learning a lot from Hill with regard to playing faster and knowing where to go with the football.
"I think I've made a lot of progress," Bridgewater said. "I'm playing faster and thinking less. As a team, we're playing together better. The chemistry is there and I'm glad to be able to get after it."
Last season the Vikings offense tied for 15th in the NFL in touchdown percentage on red zone possessions (21 TDs on 39 possessions for a rate of 53.8 percent), but that could improve this year with Bridgewater's added experience and the return of Adrian Peterson, who received a robust welcome back.
On the other side of the ball, the Vikings finished 19th in the league in touchdowns allowed percentage on red zone possessions (26 on 48 trips inside the Minnesota 20 for a rate of 54.2 percent).
The Vikings know there's an opportunity to be stingier in 2015, and veteran cornerback Terence Newman illustrated great focus and expertise on a play that was captured in slow-mo by Vikings Entertainment Network.
Working at left cornerback, Newman drew the assignment of Wallace, who scored nine touchdowns in the red zone last season in Miami. Contact from Wallace knocked off Newman's helmet but he continued tracking the speedy receiver. The absence of Newman's helmet allows for viewers to better see him use his eyes to track where Wallace was reaching his hands and enable him to reach his right hand between Wallace's to break up the pass.