Sam Bradford probably wasn’t planning to watch old SD video of Dan Fouts and Jim Everett this week, but that’s what he’s going to do.
As is his habit, Bradford is working with new coaches. He was traded Saturday from the Philadelphia Eagles to the Minnesota Vikings. His new offensive coordinator is Norv Turner, who has been coaching quarterbacks for decades and believes there’s a certain and specific way to do it. Turner's son Scott is the Vikings' quarterbacks coach.
“I show tape with Fouts, Jim Everett, Peyton Manning,” Norv Turner said in an interview last month, when his task was to get Teddy Bridgewater ready for the season. “They all see those guys do it, and they can emulate them. [Troy] Aikman watched Fouts and Everett tape.”
Turner was discussing the concept of coaching quarterbacks in general. It is his calling and a topic on which he is effusive and expansive. He has been doing it for a while. His list of pupils includes Aikman, Trent Green, Drew Brees, Alex Smith and Philip Rivers, as well as Bridgewater and now Bradford.
“Norv, to me, was the perfect coach to have at the time in my career when I had him,” Rivers said last month at Chargers training camp. “I just always felt like we thought about the game the same way. When we talked about the game, we were speaking the same language.”
The genius of Turner's coaching lies in the fact that there are many quarterbacks scattered around and outside the NFL who are nothing like Rivers but feel the same way about Turner. The ability to connect with an individual on a level that makes him or her feel unique is what makes a teacher effective. But when it comes to coaching quarterbacks, Turner says, certain principles are universal.
“We have a certain style, in terms of techniques we’re going to use with our drops,” Turner said in that interview last month. “I don’t fool around with the throwing motion all that much because that’s like asking a golfer to change his swing. But we do spend a lot of time on the drops and the specifics of what we want them to do there.”
Bradford is in for some fresh education. Yes, he knows Vikings tight ends coach Pat Shurmur from the time they spent together in St. Louis and Philadelphia. But Turner is running the offensive show in Minnesota right now, so it’s fair to expect Bradford’s indoctrination to follow some of his time-tested basics. Turner will surely take up his customary position behind Bradford in practice, watching the back of his helmet to figure out where his eyes are going in certain situations and assessing those decisions with him in film sessions. He will make sure Bradford does whatever cramming he has to do to learn the differences between the Eagles’ offense and the Vikings’.
“If you move to France and you’re going to live there a couple of years, you’d better learn to speak French,” said Turner, who used to give his quarterbacks tape recorders to help them practice and tell them to ask their friends or wives to quiz them on terminology.
Bradford might not have to learn French, but he’ll have some learning to do if Turner is to get the best out of him for the Vikings this year. Whether that means he’s ready to go in Week 1 or develops in Minnesota’s system throughout the early part of the year, the important thing from a quarterback coach’s standpoint is that Bradford does it the right way.
“The first thing you need to do when you get your hands on a player is break them down fundamentally,” said New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo, who did that with 10-year veteran Eli Manning when he became the Giants’ offensive coordinator two years ago. “No matter who it is, you’ve got to break them down and build them back up. And they have to be able to commit to the process.”
Of course, once he has the basics down, Bradford can be Bradford. Quarterback coaches say it’s important to install the basics and also identify what a quarterback does well and build on that.
“It’s like teaching a kid to drive,” Turner said. “You give him the fundamentals, and then you give him the freedom to do it on his own.”
Bradford obviously already knows how to drive, or else the Vikings wouldn’t have dealt a first-round pick to get him after Bridgewater got hurt. But the Vikings aren’t going to hand him the keys without putting him through a couple new tests first. Bet on it starting with those grainy, old Dan Fouts videos.