Mike Zimmer and Teddy Bridgewater were nowhere to be seen Wednesday when the Vikings gave the media their first glimpse at one of their organized team activities.
Bridgewater created a lot of buzz Tuesday when the Vikings released a slow-motion video, complete with theatrical music, of the quarterback throwing three passes during a practice. But the team said he was excused Wednesday for a scheduled visit with his doctors, so there was no opportunity for reporters to gauge his physical status live and in real time.
Zimmer, meanwhile, remains at his ranch in Kentucky after the coach reluctantly agreed Monday to take a leave of absence so he could focus on his recovery from his latest eye surgery away from Winter Park. That left Zimmer’s three coordinators and defensive line coach Andre Patterson, who broke down the huddle after practice, to direct the team.
So, Jerick McKinnon, what has it been like not having Zimmer around this week?
“Quiet,” the running back said, his eyes darting around, almost as if he expected the crotchety 60-year-old coach to pop out from around the corner and make him run a lap.
By all accounts, the first two OTAs went smoothly without Zimmer, who has had eight surgeries on his troublesome right eye since November, barking at players. Despite those daily ear-dentings, players do wish their coach was here but are happy to see he is prioritizing his health after watching him struggle with vision issues for months.
“Everybody knows it’s been an issue since last year with the multiple surgeries,” defensive tackle Tom Johnson said. “He’s coming in and he’s down and grumpy, and not [acting] like he usually is because of the eye. So it’s a serious situation. You don’t want somebody you respect like that be in pain. He’s stubborn, and we all know that.”
How stubborn? General Manager Rick Spielman could only laugh when asked whether it was Zimmer’s decision or the team’s for the coach to leave the state for a while.
“I would just say Coach Zimmer is very hardheaded in a lot of things,” he said. “And sometimes, just like with these players, you have to make sure your health comes first.”
Spielman said the Vikings are “very excited” about how the latest surgery went last week and are cautiously optimistic it will be the last one. As for Zimmer’s timetable to return to the practice fields, Spielman said the coach will be re-evaluated in a couple of weeks.
“He does need to rest and recover,” Spielman said during the team stretch. “The best thing about it is he’s 12 hours away so I know he can’t drive back to the office every day.”
Spielman was more tight-lipped when it came to Bridgewater’s status, a day after the team released video that trumpeted the quarterback throwing in his first organized practice since suffering a career-threatening injury to his left knee nine months ago.
Spielman, as he has done all offseason, declined to share whether the 24-year-old is ahead of schedule in his recovery, only saying, “He’s very limited in what he’s able to do at this point, but it’s progress.” He would not say if Bridgewater might be cleared by the start of training camp, which kicks off a couple of months from now.
Spielman did concede that it was “very encouraging” to see Bridgewater, who has been throwing to receivers for at least a few weeks during voluntary throwing sessions at Winter Park, take the next step by tossing passes at an official practice. However, Spielman stressed that Bridgewater is still not technically practicing with the team.
“Part of the rehab process you saw [Tuesday] was that he is able to drop back and throw,” he said. “He is not cleared for practice, so I want to make that perfectly clear. But he’s working extremely hard in his rehab, and we’ll continue to monitor his progress.”
While teammates say that Bridgewater’s innate positivity never has wavered, not even in the days immediately after he suffered that devastating knee injury last August, his presence at passing sessions in recent weeks has provided some an emotional lift.
“He looks good to me. He’s throwing with a lot of velocity,” wide receiver Jarius Wright said. “It’s very encouraging. Some other people [outside the team] are counting him out, so I’m just happy to have him back out here proving a lot of people wrong so far.”
Added McKinnon: “For him to get to this point, it’s really not a surprise because I know what kind of guy he is. I just know he’s going to keep fighting until he gets the green light.”
Staff writer Mark Craig contributed to this report.