Monday, June 22, 2015

Training Camp Position Preview: Quarterback

Image Courtesy of USA Today Sports

The Vikings solidified the starting quarterback position last year, but did they do enough to address the backup slot this off-season? Daniel House answers that question and more as he previews the quarterbacks.

Updated: June 22nd, 2015 6:00pm

By: Daniel House

The Vikings are heading into training camp with one of the most stable quarterback situations they have faced in decades. They finally didn't have to spend the off-season worried about how the quarterback position would be addressed. In free agency, the team added veteran Shaun Hill, but the third-string battle is wide-open. Free agent signee Mike Kafka and undrafted rookie Taylor Heinicke will be facing off for the final roster spot. However, for the first time in many seasons, the Vikings have a franchise quarterback and reliable veteran backup in the fold.

Note: All statistical information via Pro Football Focus

Teddy Bridgewater

After getting experience as a rookie, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater proved he has the tools to play in the NFL. Bridgewater completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 2,920 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season. Those numbers won’t blow anybody away, but one of the real reasons to be excited about Bridgewater is when you look at what he accomplished in weeks 13-17. During those weeks, Bridgewater finished tied with Tony Romo for highest completion percentage (72.1 percent). Combine that with a second-best QB rating of 103 during that stretch, and Bridgewater's numbers become even more impressive. Not to mention, he also finished runner-up to Russell Wilson, with an 8.79 yards per attempt average over the final five games of the season.

As he became a more vocal leader and adjusted to the pace of the game, you could tell Bridgewater was comfortable in his role. He had the awareness to keep his eyes up the field and progress through his reads on a consistent basis. In essence, when the pressure was applied, it didn't effect what Bridgewater was looking to do. Bridgewater had the highest accuracy percentage in the NFL in 2014 when he was under pressure. He had an accuracy percentage under pressure of 75.2%, which was nearly two full percentage points higher than the next-highest graded quarterback. Bridgewater had some issues throwing the ball vertically down the field on passes of 30+ yards. However, as he played more later in the season, these flaws weren't showing up on a frequent basis. That truly was the only real flaw in Teddy Bridgewater's game last season. Finally, Minnesota didn't receive consistent offensive line play at any point of the 2014 season. The team finished 25th in pass protection and Bridgewater was sacked a fifth-most 51 times. Even with all of that said, Bridgewater still managed to post top-tier statistical lines. The only direction Teddy Bridgewater can head is up. In 2015, he will have an improved offensive line grouping. Finally, the best running back in the league will be returning to his back field. That might not hurt a young quarterback's development.

Shaun Hill

After the Vikings let Christian Ponder walk in free agency, they needed to find a stable backup quarterback in 2015. Hill is a 13-year veteran and spent a four-year stint in Minnesota earlier in his career. Most recently, Hill spent time in St. Louis with the Rams and actually started eight games last season. He completed 63% of his passes for 1,657 yards, eight touchdowns, and seven interceptions in 2014. During that stint, the Rams went 3-5 and Hill was eventually replaced by rookie Austin Davis. Hill has predicated his game on being accurate and taking care of the football. He has thrown double-digit interceptions in just one season and his completion percentage hasn't plummeted below 60% more than once in his career. Hill spent one season in Norv Turner's offense and has a familiarity with what he will be looking for offensively. He has 13 years of experience in the league and can be trusted in the event Teddy Bridgewater is injured.

Mike Kafka 

Mike Kafka was signed by the Vikings after they watched him at the Veteran's Combine in late March. Kafka has been a long-time backup in the league and was originally selected in the fourth-round by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010. He's attempted just 16 passes in his NFL career, all of them coming in 2011. He completed 11 of those 16 passes for 107 yards. Otherwise, his career has been rather nondescript in the NFL. During his time at Northwestern, he was a dual-threat quarterback, but possessed a strong arm that could be developed. In Minnesota, he will compete with Taylor Heinicke for the third and final quarterback spot on the roster. The door is open for Kafka, but it seems the quarterback who is the most comfortable in the offensive scheme will win the battle.

Taylor Heinicke 

Norv Turner scoured the market to find under-the-radar players at this position. He came away impressed with Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke. Heinicke completed 1,238 of 1,829 career passes (67.7 percent) for 14,959 yards with 132 touchdowns and 39 interceptions in four seasons at Old Dominion. He played in a spread offense predicated on making quick throws. He may be small, measuring in at 6 feet, but he has the toughness and leadership to blaze his own path. He won't blow you away with his physical traits, but he has the intelligence and the necessary chip on his shoulder to win a backup job. The door is wide open for the third quarterback spot and Heinicke is the developmental product the coaching staff was looking for during the draft season. Norv Turner visited his pro-day and was obviously intrigued enough to pull the trigger on a player he feels the coaching staff can groom.

In closing, the Vikings have the starting quarterback spot secured and added a reliable backup in the event an injury occurs. However, the third quarterback spot is a wide-open competition between veteran journeyman Mike Kafka and rookie Taylor Heinicke.


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