Pat Shurmur: Sam Bradford's comfort level could lift Vikings' passing game

MINNEAPOLIS -- Pat Shurmur's influence on the Minnesota Vikings' offense dates back to last January, when the former Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator became the Vikings' tight ends coach with something of an understanding that his influence would go beyond his position group.

Coach Mike Zimmer said he'd hired Shurmur and offensive line coach Tony Sparano -- another former head coach and offensive coordinator -- in part for their insight on the offense as a whole, adding he could have found an ordinary position coach anywhere. And as Shurmur said this past Friday, the Vikings had started to implement some of the ideas from his previous offenses before he became the interim offensive coordinator in the wake of Norv Turner's resignation last November.

That means changing the Vikings' offense will be more about "additions," as Shurmur called them, than wholesale alterations. The Vikings' offensive terminology could revert to a West Coast-based language, in lieu of the Air Coryell verbiage Turner had used, but while the plays might have different names, they likely won't look all that different.

Rather, the biggest changes Shurmur is looking for have to do with execution. He said several times during an interview at Vikings Winterfest that the team's ground game has to improve (after the Vikings posted a league-low 1,205 yards in 2016), and he mentioned a need for both more explosive plays and greater red zone efficiency.

One of the biggest reasons Shurmur believes the Vikings can improve, though, is the time his quarterback will have to work with his receivers after last fall's spur-of-the-moment union. Though Sam Bradford posted the best numbers of his career in 2016, setting an NFL single-season record for completion percentage, he had the league's shortest average target as the Vikings tried to make him comfortable behind a leaky offensive line. Bradford, who joined the Vikings on Sept. 3, will now have a full offseason to develop the kind of timing and compatibility with his receivers that he had to conjure up on the fly last season.

"When he comes back [for the Vikings' offseason program in April], him having the ability to sit down with the players he’s going to play with through the offseason, we’ll do things that fit his eye, that fit with what we do," Shurmur said. "We’ll be able to practice that more. When he came in this year, everything was running parallel and real fast. He had to get up to speed with what we were doing, he had to quickly learn the players he was playing with. That connection between the quarterback and the skill players is extremely important, and that chemistry is built really in the offseason, when you get the chance to slow it down and run the individual routes that are within the concept, so he gets a feel for their body language and vice versa. That’s where you’re hopeful that you’re going to see a big jump in efficiency in terms of the passing game.”

The Vikings' ability to fix their offensive line will have a major say in how much more explosive they can be, but it should be noted that Bradford threw for 3,877 yards in a situation where very little was ideal. If the quarterback can click with his receivers in 2017, the Vikings' passing game could pick up some speed next season.