On Wednesday, more than 13½ months after he injured his left knee in the Vikings’ final practice of the 2016 preseason, Teddy Bridgewater will make his return.
Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery in September 2016 to repair torn ligaments in Bridgewater’s left knee, cleared the quarterback to return to practice on Monday morning, and coach Mike Zimmer said Monday afternoon that Bridgewater will practice Wednesday.
The 25-year-old dislocated his left knee and tore multiple ligaments, including his anterior cruciate ligament, on a non-contact injury on Aug. 30, 2016. In the days following his injury, Bridgewater’s future looked bleak. On Wednesday, he’ll reach an important milestone in his return.
“It’s great,” Zimmer said. “He’s worked extremely hard — obviously not only him, the training staff, the doctors, [strength and conditioning coach] Mark Uyeyama, all those guys have done a great job with him, trying to rehab him and get him ready to practice. It’s a great deal for Teddy, and we’ll take it one day at a time, just like we have the last 14 months.”
Once Bridgewater is back on the practice field, the Vikings will have three weeks to determine whether to activate him from the physically-unable-to-perform list. It’s believed, though, that Bridgewater is on track to play this season, barring any setbacks. He has done extensive rehab work in recent weeks, and looked strong in some on-field work last week, flashing an overhauled dropback designed to help him generate more power off his back leg and reduce the stress on his surgically repaired left knee.
He’ll likely be brought along slowly — “We’re not going to dose him out on Wednesday,” Zimmer said — but the fact Bridgewater is ready to take part in practice at all is an encouraging sign for a quarterback whose attitude during the rehab process has won consistent praise from Zimmer and Vikings players.
Rather than doing that work in another place — his native South Florida, for example — Bridgewater chose to remain in Minnesota for the bulk of his rehab. That’s allowed him to stay involved in team meetings, which could help him adjust to the fact the Vikings implemented a new scheme from a different offensive coordinator (Pat Shurmur) since the last time Bridgewater played in a game.
“He’s good,” Zimmer said. “He’s been taking the script every week, and running it by himself over there on the other field. We’ll be all right; Teddy’s smart.”
Bridgewater’s decision to rehab in Minnesota also sent a message to his teammates that the popular quarterback wasn’t going to be far away.
“I think it means a lot to everybody. It lets us know that he’s here with us,” said running back Jerick McKinnon. “He could be somewhere else, but he’d rather sit here and grind it out with us. As teammates, it makes us feel like he’s with us, and we’ll go from there.”
The quarterback was the first to hint he’d been cleared to return to practice on Monday morning, with a tweet that simply said, “Thank you.”
As Bridgewater prepares for his potential return, the Vikings are still waiting to see about the health of Sam Bradford, who missed his fourth game of the season on Sunday with his own left knee issues. Zimmer said Monday that Bradford was doing “pretty good,” though he didn’t say whether the quarterback would practice Wednesday. When asked if Case Keenum would start on Sunday against the Ravens, Zimmer said, “We’ll just have to see how it goes.”
Keenum, who started for the Vikings in their 23-10 win over the Packers, said after the game Sunday he’s not worried about how Bridgewater or Bradford’s status could affect his future.
“I don’t make anything of it,” Keenum said. “I’m playing quarterback, and I love to play quarterback. I love this team, I love this offense, and I love the atmosphere. I love the stadium. It’s a great spot. Like I said, there’s a lot of externals in this business, and it’s your job to talk through every possibility in everything that goes on, but that’s not my job, so I don’t have to answer that question. I can go out and play quarterback and have fun.”