Sam Bradford is expected to return to Vikings practice next week, according to coach Mike Zimmer, which is a step toward the veteran quarterback possibly being activated from injured reserve during the playoffs.

The Vikings placed Bradford on injured reserve Nov. 8, a day after he underwent surgery on his ailing left knee. The operation reportedly cleaned up cartilage and smoothed a bone spur, per ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.

“He’s been working out, doing things, getting on the field,” Zimmer said Wednesday. “He’s throwing the ball, doing workouts. I haven’t seen him. I’ve seen him, but I haven’t seen him work out.”

Bradford was first eligible to return to Vikings practice last week, when he reached the required six-week stay on injured reserve. But the Vikings will hold him out of practice until next week, when he’s actually eligible to return to play.

With a win Sunday against the Bears, the Vikings earn the NFC’s No. 2 seed and first-round bye, giving the coaching and athletic training staffs extra time to assess Bradford’s possible return in the playoffs.

“We’ll see when he practices,” Zimmer said.

Bradford, whose contract expires in March, has played six quarters for the Vikings this season. Two quarters came after he injured his left knee — which has previously undergone two ACL repairs — while starring in the Week 1 win against the Saints. He returned in Week 5 in Chicago, looking unable to move well while taking four sacks and completing five of 11 passes for 36 yards.

Case Keenum replaced Bradford 25 seconds before halftime in Chicago and led the Vikings to a 20-17 win. Keenum is 10-3 as the Vikings’ starter this season.

New play-caller is an option again

Zimmer again is considering handing off defensive play calling to coordinator George Edwards after this season ends. Zimmer considered the switch last offseason when evaluating ways he could be a better head coach on game days.

“He really does everything for me, other than I call the plays on Sunday,” Zimmer said during a conference call with Chicago reporters on Wednesday. “But I may change that next year.”

This is Zimmer’s 18th NFL season calling plays, which he’s alluded to as one of his strengths. The numbers back that up. The Vikings are the NFL’s No. 1 scoring defense entering the final regular-season game. Minnesota has ranked no worse than 11th since hiring Zimmer.

“You know, I don’t know,” Zimmer said when asked why he’d delegate play calling. “It’s a lot of work when you sit down and do it. I’ve done it for a long time. And because I have confidence in George, as well. I think maybe just the fact that, um, you know, I don’t know — I guess I’m just getting older.”

Elflein held out

Center Pat Elflein was unable to practice Wednesday because of a left shoulder injury that has bothered him since the Vikings’ Dec. 3 win in Atlanta. Elflein missed one game and has started twice since.

Defensive tackle Shamar Stephen (ankle), long snapper Kevin McDermott (shoulder) and cornerback Tramaine Brock (foot) were also held out of practice. Tight end Kyle Rudolph (ankle) and cornerback Terence Newman (non-injury) were limited.

Smith honored

Safety Harrison Smith was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week after he led the Vikings with eight tackles and two interceptions in Green Bay. It’s Smith’s first such honor of his career and the Vikings’ eighth defensive player of the week award in four seasons under the current coaching staff.