MANKATO – It has now been more than a year since Desmond Bishop last played a football game, 369 days to be exact. So it’s easy to understand why he feels far more eager to discuss the Vikings’ Friday preseason contest in Buffalo than he is to recount the moment that created such a will-testing detour 12 months ago.
Understandably, Bishop remains averse to thinking back on that night — Aug. 9, 2012. Packers at Chargers. On a routine running play during a nondescript preseason tuneup, San Diego’s Ronnie Brown plowed ahead for 3 yards but landed hard atop Bishop’s extended right leg.
“I remember my worst fear coming true,” Bishop said Monday. “I don’t really like to revisit it.”
That’s the injury that cost Bishop the entire 2012 season. It’s the setback that ultimately led Green Bay to release him in mid-June, creating his unlikely migration to Minnesota.
And yet with a new opportunity with the Vikings to revive his career, Bishop hasn’t been able to stay on the field.
His absence from last Friday’s preseason opener was because of a groin pull he suffered a week earlier, another injury obstacle at an inopportune time. No wonder Bishop’s anxiety has elevated as a critical stretch arrives.
“This is going to determine whether or not he makes our team,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “So much of this is about how he plays over the next two weeks. Or if he’s not available because of his injury. I can’t say it any simpler than that. It’s a big two weeks for him. He needs to show us he can help our football team in order to make our team.”
The eager and optimistic playmaker who checked into the Sears Hall dormitory on July 25 vowing to become a force in the starting linebacker corps has now transformed into a restless veteran who is still hopeful but understands time is running out.
Bishop didn’t have the offseason program with the Vikings to leave a lasting impression. And now he has had only a handful of full-tilt practices in training camp to showcase his skills. So unless he spends the next two weeks of practice and two critical road games in Buffalo and San Francisco establishing himself, his time as a Viking might not last much longer.
“This is an urgent time for me right now,” Bishop said. “And not to put extra pressure on myself, but urgent to go out and do what I’ve been doing since I was 8. There’s an urgency there. But there’s also a calm and a real confidence there.”
Bishop says he knows he can help this defense. He points to his work ethic and consistency and knows he’s capable of being a difference-maker, evidenced by the team-best 114 tackles plus five sacks and two forced fumbles he registered in 2011 in Green Bay.
But at this point, verbal sales pitches are hollow. That’s what made the recent groin pull an ill-timed setback. For an established starter with a roster spot locked up, the mid-August balance of patience and urgency with such an injury would be easier to strike.
That’s not a luxury Bishop has.
“It’s an adjustment,” Bishop said. “I’d be lying to say I don’t get frustrated sometimes in trying to learn and trying to get that balance. But at the end of the day, man, I’m blessed to be out here playing football. And I want to take this opportunity Friday to show the world what Desmond Bishop is all about.”
Good health is key
On the field, Bishop has shown his experience, his energy and what Frazier calls “a cleverness” to be active in plays. There are few doubts that, at full strength, Bishop can be a run stopper and adept against the pass.
During Monday’s practice, he worked as the weakside linebacker with the second-unit defense. Marvin Mitchell remains the starter on the weakside. And Tyrone McKenzie is in the mix as well, his value enhanced by his role as a core special teamer.
So now comes a critical stretch for a promising 29-year-old linebacker who has his career hanging by a thread. Bishop must be careful to not reinjure himself. But he must also push harder than ever to win over a curious coaching staff and the front office folks who rolled the dice on him.
“Can he get back to his form quick enough to show us that he’s worthy of winning a roster spot?” Frazier said. “He has a short window now. … This is the NFL. If a guy can’t be available, he really can’t help your team. As talented as he may be, you need guys who are available. But he understands that. It’s pressure. But that’s our league.”