The Vikings have three QBs on the roster that could potentially see playing time now that Teddy Bridgewater is out for the year.
I assume Rick Spielman will be shakin' the bushes for another veteran back-up (read has-been or never-was), but I don't see a lot of value in it. The new guy would have to come in and learn the system with limited reps, and in all likelihood be no better, and perhaps worse, than the guys already on the roster.
So I don't have a lot of hope for a Kaepernick or Weeden or Sanchez or someone else to drop in and save the season. But, with the likely starter to be Shaun Hill, I'm more than ready to look at alternatives, particularly Stave and Heinike, to see what they can do too.
But first let's look at Shaun Hill.
Shaun Hill is an aging veteran QB that knows the offense reasonably well, has read a lot of defenses over his long career, and knows what to do. He looked reasonably well for his age in preseason. Those are the positives for Hill.
On the negative side, Hill's arm-strength is about what Peyton Manning's was last year- which is to say poor. Manning was able to overcome that to some degree based on his ability to anticipate defenses- something he's excelled at his whole career. Hill doesn't have that level of ability to make up for his lack of adequate arm strength. Hill, also like Manning, isn't mobile and isn't going to avoid many sacks.
What this translates into is a dink-and-dunk passing offense, countered by defenses that load the box. We've seen this before. And it isn't pretty.
The only reason for optimism with Shaun Hill at QB is the fact that Norv Turner was able to take an aging Brad Johnson (but still only 31 at the time) to the 2nd ranked offense in the NFL in 1999, and made the playoffs with a 10-6 record. Obviously with a top 5 offense, to go along with last year's top 5 defense, the Vikings would be very formidable. Still, hard to see Shaun Hill throwing for 4,000 yards though, as Johnson did in 1999. But if Hill can make those 3rd down and red-zone throws, he could fill in reasonable well for Bridgewater. And if the defense can come close to what Denver's did last year (and they did last year), then the Vikings could still be a contender.
I'm going to skip Taylor Heinike, primarily because he hasn't played or practiced this year, and still has three weeks or so before he'll be able to. He looked alright in pre-season last year, and some say the Vikings coaches like him, but he certainly didn't help himself injuring his foot breaking into his own house and missing most of the off-season and pre-season. That may have left the door open for Joel Stave to overtake him on the depth chart.
Which brings us to Joel Stave.
For those that don't know much about Stave, he's 6'5", 236 lbs., went 31-10 playing for Wisconsin- a pro-style, run-first offense. After re-watching his pre-season performances, I looked up his draft profile:
Looks the part with good size and a pretty, over-the-top delivery. Plays in pro-style offense and is experienced under center. Steps and drives the intermediate throws and ball comes out of his hand with a tight spiral and heat on it. Possesses above average arm strength and was asked to make NFL throws in his offense. Rhythm passer able to throw with timing. Comfortable and efficient on roll outs and bootlegs.
Accuracy and ball placement are hit or miss. Throws at or slightly behind moving targets rather than throwing them open.. Below average pocket mobility. Shows signs of pocket panic dropping eyes at early signs of pressure. Can't win with his legs. Plays with blinders and will make throws with no awareness of safeties lurking. Poor decision making and accuracy on third downs attempting to fit throws into impossible spots.
Round 7 or priority free agent
Sources Tell Us
"He's got the physical tools that are going to get him drafted and give him a shot with a team. Coaches who are just seeing him are going to be more excited about him than the scouts who know him." -- NFC executive
Stave has size, a strong arm, loads of experience and plays in a run-first offense, yet he's produced 19 touchdowns and 22 interceptions over the last two seasons. For all the physical boxes he checks off, issues with accuracy and decision-making have been too present in his game and fans at Wisconsin let him know about it. Stave throws as pretty a pass as any quarterback in this draft, but very few quarterbacks have been able to overcome his weaknesses and become reliable NFL quarterbacks.
I don't know about you, but I didn't notice the weaknesses in his draft profile show up in the pre-season games. And as someone who watched Christian Ponder all those years, as most of you have, we know what pocket panic looks like. Actually, I thought Stave handled himself pretty well. Sure, he got nailed when Sirles whiffed on his block, and he fumbled on a sack, and he had a couple misfires passing, but for the most part I thought he showed good pocket presence. He kept his eyes downfield. I saw him avoid a sack a couple times, show some good mobility to extend a few plays- and I saw him make a lot of nice throws. Some intermediate/deep balls too. He delivers a nice ball- and with some zip- as advertised.
I didn't see him make a lot of poor decisions. The only interception I saw was a throw that hit Fruechete in the numbers but somehow he ended up throwing it up in the air for a DB to intercept. Not exactly Stave's fault. I didn't notice any throws that should have been interceptions either.
Of course all this is pre-season, with 2nd and 3rd string guys on both sides, running basic offenses and defenses for the most part. But still, Stave did well. I'd like to see more of Stave in the last preseason game on Thursday. With Hill now the starting QB, perhaps the Vikings won't play him much, or at all, and let Stave show his stuff for most or all of the game.
Do I think the Vikings should start Stave if he plays well on Thursday? Maybe not. But if Hill can't make throws down the field, I wouldn't hesitate pulling him in favor of Stave either.
The reason for optimism if Stave ends up starting is that he has shown some poise and pocket presence for a rookie, and can deliver a nice ball down field with some zip to it. It may be that he's been learning some since he signed with the Vikings, and has begun to correct some of the problems he had in college. If he has the time and can make the throws down field, that opens up everything for the rest of the offense to help take the pressure off of him and maintain a balanced attack. The weapons are there.
Of course there is no comparison between Hill and Stave in terms of the leadership and ability of Teddy Bridgewater. All signs pointed to a breakout year for Teddy this year, and he is going to be sorely missed on and off the field.
But this is a talented Vikings team that can still be playoff bound with decent play at the QB position, and it's time for a back-up QB to step-up and make it happen. This is an opportunity for either a veteran like Hill to show he can still compete and make the throws, or a young guy like Stave to suck it up and show he can play in this league.
If the offensive line is able to give Teddy's replacement more time this year than they gave Teddy last year, the Vikings passing game could still progress, just maybe not as much as it would have with Teddy under center. By all accounts the defense looks ready to keep the Vikings in the game this year, but the offense has to do it's job for the Vikings to be successful.
That doesn't start with AP. It starts with a QB that can do what's needed in the passing game. If the Vikings QB can't deliver when needed in the passing game, AP isn't going to be enough. Not anymore.
But I do get the sense that this team under Mike Zimmer isn't about to accept excuses at the QB position. Whoever starts at QB will be supported- but also expected to step-up and deliver. Mike Zimmer has gone a long way in establishing a winning culture of hard work and a tough, physical, smart football team that he has preached since he arrived at Winter Park. Whether that is enough to overcome losing your starter at the most important position in professional sports remains to be seen, but this is a team that has the capacity to elevate its game to help compensate for Teddy's loss, if the next man up can deliver in his absence.