EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —The wheels overhauling the Vikings offense for 2017 have been in motion but are about to hit another gear.
Minnesota will start its first of 10 organized team activity practices next week, allowing coaches and players more activity time on the field to implement what they've been discussing in meeting rooms and briefly in on-field sessions for about a month during the voluntary offseason program.
The OTA practices also are voluntary and will culminate with a mandatory minicamp June 13-15. The offense will be able to challenge a defense that remains mostly in tact after ranking third in the NFL in yards allowed and sixth in points allowed last season.
The next few weeks are important and valuable, particularly for Vikings Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur and quarterback Kyle Rudolph, as well as returning players and new additions. Shurmur and Bradford previously worked together in St. Louis and Philadelphia, but this will be the first offseason program for each in their respective capacities in Minnesota.
Shurmur joined the Vikings in 2016 as tight ends coach. He became offensive coordinator during the season, helping Bradford quickly mesh in Minnesota after the quarterback was acquired via a trade eight days before the season opened.
Citing the offseason that Kyle Rudolph had a year ago before posting 83 catches, 840 yards and seven touchdowns, Shurmur told Vikings.com's Mike Wobschall that the full offseason will be helpful to all players.
"You look at any player, I think Kyle Rudolph had a great year last year because he had a very productive and healthy offseason that kind of was a segue into the fall," Shurmur said. "The same can be said for Sam. He got here in the fall and had to quickly, I mean, there was a bunch of things running parallel – get used to the system, get used to the players, get used to our culture.
"Now he gets a chance, with the team that we have kind of compiled, to get to know everybody at the right pace, at the right settings, and hopefully it'll make a difference in the fall," Shurmur added.
Despite the challenges that Bradford and the Vikings offense faced last season, the quarterback set a single-season NFL record for completion percentage (71.6), passed for 3,877 yards and had a 4-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
"He's an outstanding leader, he's a tremendous decision-maker, which shows up, he doesn't throw a bunch of interceptions, and he's actually more aggressive down the field than he gets credit for," Shurmur said. "He's an extremely accurate passer, which we've seen – short, intermediate and long – and accuracy really goes into two boxes, there; there's the ball placement and then the touch.
"I think he has both of those," Shurmur continued. "And then I think he has a sense of timing – he understands when routes are going to come open, he's a pro, he's had to learn multiple offenses. Fortunately for Sam, this is the third time we'll be together. As offenses develop and change, he's kind of at ground zero of this year's process, which will help."
The Vikings made multiple changes to the offensive line and running back positions this offseason. Minnesota signed free agent tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers and drafted center Pat Elflein. The team also signed running back Latavius Murray and drafted Dalvin Cook.
The moves could help the quarterback position in multiple ways, Shurmur said. One of the first things for the Vikings is to develop continuity up front.
"Ideally, you'd want to get your five offensive linemen together and established as quickly as possible so that they can work together," Shurmur said. "Because one of the big elements of offensive line play is working together and getting to know how the guy next to you plays and the little non-verbal stuff that happens, the communication that happens. So, that's ideal, but we have some competition going on … we just have to see how it shakes out."
Shurmur said running backs will be tasked with multiple responsibilities and he thinks depth and versatility will be quite helpful.
"I've said before, it kind of takes a village at running back," Shurmur said. "Ideally, if you have a running back that's very good at running the football – so he's got vision and collision balance, and he understands the importance of ball security – but then also he can catch the ball, and also is proficient at pass protection. That's what you're looking for, is a guy who can do all three things. Because then as a play-caller, it doesn't matter who's in there – they can run it if you want to run it, if you want to throw them the ball, they can catch it, and when they're asked to pass protect, they can do that as well. So if you have a few guys in the room that can do those three things, then that's ideal."