Teddy Bridgewater will practice Wednesday. But he won’t arrive at Winter Park atop a majestic white steed with sword drawn high as the rest of the NFC North lowers its head and surrenders.
Yes, Wednesday is a big day. There’s a lot of talk in this town about athletes working tails off. But no one has a shorter nub of a tail than 24-year-old Theodore Edmond Bridgewater, whose 14-month journey from horrific knee injury to practice field return ends Wednesday with some limited work.
But let’s tap the brakes on projecting when Bridgewater will play. Or if he’ll even need to play this season.
Bridgewater returning to practice as soon as he was eligible tells me the Vikings are serious about activating him when they must decide in 21 days. But it doesn’t tell me they plan to start him Nov. 12 at Washington.
It tells me they’ve looked around the NFL, seen the growing pile of broken bodies, taken note of Case Keenum’s less-than-ideal stature and are rightfully worried to go many more games with undrafted rookie Kyle Sloter as their backup. It also tells me that Bridgewater’s left knee probably is closer to being ready than Sam Bradford’s left knee.
But that doesn’t mean there’s a rush to start Bridgewater. And, barring injury, why should there be?
When the Vikings went 11-5 and won the division in 2015, Bridgewater had success with an unselfish, complementary style of play that put a well-balanced, defensive-oriented team ahead of personal statistics.
Six weeks into the 2017 season, the same can be said of Keenum as the Vikings once again sit atop the division.
The team’s rise or fall this season doesn’t hinge on Bridgewater’s return. He’s good, but unlike Green Bay or New England, the identity and the soul of this team is a defense layered with elite, high-priced playmakers.
On the other side of the ball, it’s not Keenum, Bridgewater, Bradford or offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur who will magically revive a dormant offense. It’s the five guys up front that no one talks about anymore.
Funny how signing two free-agent tackles, drafting a center and pitching Alex Boone overboard changed the weakest and most complained-about link into an overlooked strength.
In 2015, as the Fantasy Footballers complained about Bridgewater’s ’70s throwback numbers, I defended his play. When he went 14-for-18 for 153 yards against the Lions, I applauded him for knowing how not to mess up as Adrian Peterson ran for 134 yards and the defense held Matthew Stafford to 16 points.
That was Week 2. By season’s end, Bridgewater had nine games in which he threw for fewer than 188 yards.
He went 8-1 in those games.
When the Vikings went into Lambeau Field and wrestled the division title from the Packers in the regular season finale, Bridgewater completed 10 of 19 passes for 99 yards and a 45.7 passer rating.
But the defense was healthy, fresh and beaming after holding Aaron Rodgers to 13 points in a winner-take-all contest.
In the eight games Bridgewater won while throwing for less than 188 yards, he turned the ball over five times. Opponents turned those five turnovers into just 10 points.
Keenum is 2-2 as a starter this season. Bradford got the Chicago win, but it was Keenum who did all the heavy lifting in relief.
Like Bridgewater, Keenum understands there’s more to an NFL team than the quarterback. Bridgewater was successful in 2015 because the offense was balanced and the defense ranked fifth in points allowed (18.9).
Keenum is surprising people this year because the offense is staying balanced even in Dalvin Cook’s absence and the defense once again ranks fifth in points allowed (17.2).
Bridgewater is a good quarterback who, hopefully, will one day make it all the way back to live action. But, for now, barring injury or a collapse in Keenum’s play, there’s no need to view Bridgewater as a savior who needs to be rushed back as the starter.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL