Late in Case Keenum’s session with reporters Wednesday, Vikings public relations director Tom West gave his customary notice to reporters that the quarterback’s news conference would soon be wrapping up.
“Last couple for Sam,” West said.
Keenum replied with a smirk, “Who’s Sam?” Then Keenum jokingly added, “It’s just ingrained in his head. … It’s all right, Phil — I mean, Tom.”
As the Vikings wait to see whether Sam Bradford will be able to return from a left knee injury to play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, it seems everything is a bit out of sorts this week.
Bradford and Keenum gave twin news conferences in the locker room, and both threw during individual drills in the open portion of Wednesday’s practice, as the Vikings sought to avoid making any pronouncements about Bradford’s health in advance of the Buccaneers game.
Bradford said his knee feels better than it did last Sunday, when he was unable to play in the team’s 26-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He plans to test his knee throughout the week after a noncontact injury he sustained in the team’s season-opening victory against the New Orleans Saints limited him in practice last week and kept him out of the Steelers game.
But he might not have a clear answer until the end of the week — or perhaps even game day — about whether he’s able to start.
“I would like to think that [my chances of playing] are good, but I think a lot of it just depends on how my knee responds when we go out there and practice this week,” Bradford said.
Coach Mike Zimmer said Monday that Bradford twisted his knee during the Saints game, and Bradford said he realized Tuesday morning the pain was more noticeable than he’d expected. He tore his left ACL in both the 2013 and 2014 seasons, though Zimmer said on Sunday that Bradford’s latest injury would not require surgery.
“I’ve been through a lot with this knee,” Bradford said. “I’ve played through quite a few different bumps and bruises with it. I think every time that I’ve done that, you just know. I don’t think there’s a checkmark or a benchmark you’ve got to meet. You’ve got to be able to play quarterback. You’ve got to be able to do what the position requires you to do. If you’re not able to do those things during practice, it’s hard to be able to do them during a game.”
When he worked out before the Steelers game, Bradford said he hoped a light day of work Saturday would allow him to move well enough to play. After playing catch and making a few throws off dropbacks, though, he returned to the locker room, and the Vikings started Keenum. Keenum completed 20 of his 37 passes for 167 yards in the loss.
“I think there are things you can do, as far as rehab, to improve it and to make it feel better,” Bradford said. “I’m not going to go into exactly how we’re treating this or what we’ve done, but we’ve done a lot of work over the past week, just trying to make sure the swelling is out of there, trying to get that controlled and trying to get it to feel as good as it can.”
Were Bradford unable to play Sunday, the Vikings would turn once again to Keenum, who was sacked twice and hit seven times against the Steelers. Both Keenum and Zimmer said the quarterback had plenty to do with the amount of pressure the Vikings allowed Sunday, whether by dropping too deep in the pocket or making a mistake with the snap cadence on at least one occasion.
“Personally, for me, I think most sacks are on the quarterback,” Keenum said. “There’s something I could have done: getting the ball out quicker, or some type of pocket movement. On all of those, there’s things I could do better. I think the offensive line did a great job.”
Keenum completed 14 of his 26 passes for 190 yards, two touchdowns and an interception as the Los Angeles Rams’ quarterback in a 37-32 victory over the Buccaneers last Sept. 25. Fifty-two weeks later, he could get the chance to face Tampa Bay’s emerging defense again.
“I’ve played against these linebackers a bunch,” Keenum said. “They can fast-flow [to the ball,] they can get back in coverage, and their turnovers, that’s what they’ve been known for. That’s what they’ve done so well [causing four turnovers against the Bears on Sunday]. We’re going to have to take care of the football, get them identified and blocked up.”