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For Vikings fans, there is hope for the future

Published 10:13am Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Pothole Prairie by Tim Engstrom

Fans of the Minnesota Vikings have to be optimistic following the 2014 NFL draft and the offseason coaching changes.

Some fans wanted the Vikings to draft Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. Not me. As fun to watch as Johnny Football is, having him as a quarterback would require an NFL offense to fit to his improvisational style. And considering the injuries that Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III has sustained, it seems having that style of QB is risky.

No, I am glad the Vikes selected quarterback Teddy Bridgewater out of Louisville. This guy had the second-best completion percentage among NCAA Division I-A quarterbacks in 2013, better than Manziel. Perhaps we could see far fewer Christian Ponder-style dumpoff passes that land at the feet of the receivers or, like Donovan McNabb, hit the turf 10 yards short of the receiver.

Bridgewater does a great job of fooling defenders with his eyes, something many NFL quarterbacks can’t do. He has a knack for being calm in the pocket and makes his reads quickly, two traits Ponder struggled with. Some scouting reports say Bridgewater seems to have a sense of when to move before the oncoming rushers reach him.

The Vikings drafted Bridgewater with the 32nd pick — the last one in the first round. Many teams passed on Bridgewater because of a poor showing at the NFL combine, but what’s crazy is all during the college football season he was touted as most likely to be the No. 1 pick in the draft. Remember the phrase “Tanking for Teddy,” a description of NFL teams losing so they could get the first pick? Yet, he had one bad workout and suddenly teams didn’t want him.

No problem here. I think the Vikings got a steal. Kudos to General Manager Rick Spielman for trading back into the first round to get Bridgewater. It is probably good that Bridgewater was picked at No. 32 because then he won’t have that undue pressure being a top-10 pick brings.

By the way, don’t ever listen or read whatever Skip Bayless says. The ESPN commentator is paid to say stupid things. He was castigating teams last week for skipping Manziel and trouncing Bridgewater, despite praising the Louisville quarterback during the season last year. Bayless is baseless.

NFL coach Mike Zimmer sums up Bridgewater well: “You know the thing I like the most about him? He wins.”

The four things it takes to get to a Super Bowl are:

1. A coach who is unquestionably the leader of the team.

2. A quarterback with good game-management skills.

3. A healthy running back with a knack for big gains. (Don’t let the commentators on sportswriters fool you on this point when they describe the pass-happy modern era. Think of how much good Marshawn Lynch did for the Super Bowl champion Seahawks.)

4. A stifling defense.

The Vikings had all four keys the times the team went to the big game. Bud Grant was the coach. No one doubted that. QB Fran Tarkenton (in three of the four Super Bowl appearances) did amazing things with a scrappy offense. Chuck Foreman (in three of the four appearances) punished defenders with his skills, opening up the passing game for Tarkenton. The Purple People Eaters halted the offenses of their opponents, giving the ball back to Tarkenton. I must note that Joe Kapp was a fighter of a quarterback in the 1969 appearance, when Dave Osborn and Bill Brown were a dual threat at halfback and fullback.

The Vikings seem to draft decent running backs and fairly good defenders but have struggled for decades at coach and quarterback. There were brilliant seasons, to be sure. We had a good run with Denny Green and Randall Cunningham in 1998, but there wasn’t long-term success.

Receivers definitely are key to a successful Super Bowl run, too, but it seems receivers are easier to come by than running backs and quarterbacks. It is more crucial to have a quarterback who can get the ball to the receiver than how well a receiver can catch off-target passes. Mediocre receivers seem to shine when their quarterbacks can sling the football into their hands.

As admirable a man as Leslie Frazier was, the plays for offense and schemes for defense he and his coordinators had weren’t exactly clever, tricky or unpredictable. What’s more, the reports about the inside of the Vikings organization didn’t come across as a professional atmosphere. The franchise, we hope, can only get better in both areas under Zimmer, who seems ready to be a coach. He seems to be a guy who can gain the respect of players yet work hand in hand with the owner and general manager.

Zimmer offers hope. Bridgewater offers hope. The emphasis on rebuilding the defense in the draft and offseason trades offers hope. That hope might not play out this season — recall how the Seahawks made the playoffs two years ago with a losing record — but it could bear fruit in two or three years for people like me who bleed purple.

 

Tribune Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.