EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — A whole new array of information was at Sam Bradford's fingertips.
The Vikings quarterback swapped numerous text messages last month with Head Coach Mike Zimmer when Zimmer was in Kentucky recovering from his eighth procedure on his right eye.
Zimmer was able to watch film of the Vikings first six Organized Team Activity practices from afar, assess the offense and advise Bradford on the inner workings of the defense.
"We would text almost every day after practice, and he would just give me some thoughts about what he saw from the offense, what the defense was trying to do, things we could take advantage of, things they were trying to take away," Bradford said Thursday after the Vikings wrapped up a mandatory minicamp and their offseason program.
Was a blitz designed to work against a certain protection? How could the blitz be picked up? What routes were coverages trying to take away from the offense? Is there a route that finds a weak spot in a particular coverage? Are there tips that would give away certain things before the ball is snapped?
"Having those conversations with someone on the other side of the ball, especially with someone like Coach Zimmer who has that much knowledge," Bradford said, "and to really be able to talk defense and understand conceptually what it is they were trying to do, I think I've learned a lot in the past couple of weeks about coverages, blitzes and really everything that a defense tries to do to stop an offense.
"It was just nice to hear his opinion," Bradford said. "When he's here, we've obviously had conversations, but when he was away from the building, it was still nice to know that he was watching the offense and making sure we were doing things right. … Those texts were really nice."
Zimmer was glad to offer the defensive perspective from afar and continued to do so when he returned to Winter Park last week for the final four OTA practices and this week's minicamp.
He said he'd ask questions like, "Did you how deep the safety was here? Did you see rotation stuff?"
Once Zimmer returned, the coach and quarterback could have direct conversations. Zimmer said he's talking to Bradford "so much more than I ever did a year ago."
Zimmer and Bradford didn't have the luxury of an offseason to dive into details in 2016. Bradford was acquired in a trade on Sept. 3 and played 15 days later in a Week 2 win after a crash course with former Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner and Pat Shurmur, who became interim offensive coordinator after Turner resigned.
"Last year was a little bit unique to everyone, so I think he was just trying to give me space to allow me to spend time with Norv and with Pat and just get used to the offense and try to figure out what we're doing," Bradford said. "But this year, we've had a lot of conversations and it's been great."
A combination of factors have enabled Zimmer to direct more attention to the offense and special teams. The Vikings defense is returning so many players familiar to the system and has quickly and consistently risen in the league rankings.
While Zimmer doesn't want the defense to slip, he also wants to "continue to be involved with the defense but be a lot more involved in the overall game-type team offense and special teams than I have before. I know I've probably said that before, but this is the first time that I've felt comfortable.
"Part of it is, I want them to know I've got their back," added Zimmer, who has spent more time in offensive and special teams meetings. "I'm listening to them and communicating with them. I'm trying to tell them things, defensively. … While I'm sitting in there they might ask me, 'With this rotation, where's the blitz coming from?' Or, 'How's the linebacker going to react to this kind of play and things like this.' I'll tell them the things that I see that are really tough on a defensive end or whatever.
In addition to dispensing Xs and Os nuggets, Zimmer wanted to communicate "that I'm overlooking any of those guys. I want them to know that they're my guys."
Message — an interpersonal one — received, according to Bradford, who said Zimmer is "probably one of the most upfront and honest coaches I've ever played for."
"I think it's great the more Coach Zimmer can be involved with the offense," Bradford said. "We all love him and have a great deal of respect for him. We'd run through a wall for him.
"I think that's one of the things that the guys really respect because we know he's in it with us and we're in it together," Bradford added. "If he makes a mistake, he's going to own up to it, just like if he feels like we made a mistake, he's going to call us out and keep us accountable."