Teddy Bridgewater returned to the practice field for the first time in 13½ months, his every move followed by a phalanx of cameras during the brief open portion of Vikings practice. The man for whom the Vikings traded after Bridgewater’s injury — Sam Bradford — was away from the field for the fourth consecutive practice, working to rehab his own left knee issues.
While Bridgewater begins his return, and Bradford stands a chance of missing another game, the Vikings dutifully prepared for another week with the quarterback battery they’ve used for three of their four victories: Case Keenum, the man they’d signed to a one-year deal to be Bradford’s backup, and Kyle Sloter, the passer they gave $340,000 to join their practice squad in September.
And meanwhile, the Vikings are 4-2, tied for first place in the NFC North. Got all that?
Such is life with the quarterback situation in Minnesota, which is at once among the division’s most intriguing and its most stable. Bradford’s future is unknown, given the amount of time he’s missed after twisting his twice-repaired left knee in Week 1, and Bridgewater needs to get in some “uncontrolled environments” in practice before the Vikings put him back in a game, coach Mike Zimmer said.
“He’s probably not going to play this week, so we need to put the brakes on things a little bit,” Zimmer said.
The Vikings have that luxury to some degree, given what Keenum has done for them so far this season. The 29-year-old has completed 64.2 percent of his passes in 4½ games of work, throwing five touchdowns against one interception. While he might not be the long-term answer at the position, he’s afforded the Vikings some semblance of normalcy.
“Case has been a starter, has been a backup, so he knows his role really well,” quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski said. “This NFL, things change in an instant. He’s just been so prepared. I’m so impressed by watching how he prepares each way, regardless of whether he’s the starter or not. As a backup, it’s life in the big city: You don’t get any reps, and then you’re playing on Sunday. But that’s the role that he plays.”
The Vikings went into Bridgewater’s return preaching patience, with a plan to bring the quarterback along slowly. There won’t be many first-team snaps for him, at least initially, as the team affords most of that work to the starter for the upcoming game. He did, though, do some first-team work Wednesday and showed no limitations. A team source said Bridgewater “was out there doing everything.”
Eventually, Zimmer said, the Vikings need to see how Bridgewater can move around and protect himself from a free rusher coming at him.
While working on his mechanics during his rehab, Bridgewater has done everything he can to ingest the Vikings offense away from practice. Stefanski said the quarterback has been in every meeting with the position group, while using tools such as the Vikings’ virtual reality technology to simulate some of the practice work he’s not getting on the field.
“I think it can really help, because it’s just reps that you can’t get,” Stefanski said. “It’s just replicating a rep. Some [players] gravitate toward it more than others, so I let them kind of choose how much it supplements their week.”
Bradford, Stefanski said, “is doing everything in his power to get back.” Zimmer nodded when asked if Bradford was in the building Wednesday. The quarterback’s trips to get a second opinion on his knee and to see specialists have kept him out of some of the Vikings’ study sessions, but Stefanski said, “When we get him back, we’re going to bring him up to speed as quickly as we possibly can.”
At present, the Vikings’ quarterbacks room has two former first-rounders who have played a combined six quarters this season, and two undrafted free agents who have helped steady things in the meantime. It’s a bit hectic, but then, the Vikings are no strangers to a hectic quarterback situation.
“Any coach, in any meeting room in the NFL, deals with injuries, transactions,” Stefanski said. “You have a practice squad kid in, and then he leaves. You have a free agent, you have a tryout guy. That’s life in the National Football League. I know this year, and the pieces we’ve had in and out, may seem to the outside like that’s hard, but it’s kind of life in our world and what we deal with.”