Vikings Confident in QB Hill; Kearse and Pressley Pop in Preseason Finale

Photo Credit: Luke Inman

Though there was a real-life football game going on Thursday night at US Bank Stadium, most members of the Minnesota Vikings organization were still thinking about Tuesday afternoon, when their season took a terrible turn as a result of Teddy Bridgewater’s freak knee injury.

There were some signs of hope, however. Bridgewater delivered a handwritten, emotional statement that made fans want to dislocate their own knees if only to experience Bridgewater’s rehab vicariously through him. Rick Spielman reported that the quarterback was already back at the Winter Park facility on Thursday joking around with teammates — an encouraging sign for a man whose career had flashed before his eyes two days prior.

“It was really good to see him this morning,” said quarterback Shaun Hill Thursday night. “I did see him for the first time and I had a chance to give him a hug and talk to him a little bit. It really helped me out to see him.”

“Our expectation is still the same.”

Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said a group of six or seven guys went to visit Bridgewater in the hospital before his release and were shocked at his positive attitude. “He was in great spirits,” said Munnerlyn. “I don’t know if I could have been like that if that happened to me. He a believer. He believes that he’ll be back better than ever.”

While Bridgewater is presently researching his options for surgeons and knee procedures, the Vikings are knee-deep in negotiations for a new quarterback. Spielman said he and his scouts have been spending 14-hour days watching film on prospective players and receiving some “crazy” and “bizarre” trade offers. The general manager made it clear the Vikings are not going to mortgage their future to find a seven-month rental, and he made it abundantly clear the Vikings believe in the 36-year-old journeyman Hill. “We have the utmost confidence in Shaun Hill,” said Spielman, “the way he’s played this preseason, how he runs this offense. I think we have a pretty talented football team on the defensive side. I think we have a lot of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball.

“Our expectation is still the same.”

Hill echoed the sentiment after the game. “When I get in a situation like this, it’s not something completely out of the ordinary,” Hill said. “I’ve always had that same focus, brought that same focus to work, so that when a situation like this does come about, I don’t have to change anything. I don’t have to change how I prepare. I don’t have to change what I eat or sleep habits or anything like that. It’s all in place.”

Running back Adrian Peterson also spoke up about his desire to carry the team, similar to how he led an otherwise-stagnant offense to a playoff appearance in 2012 with a 2,000-yard season. “To be honest with you,” Peterson said, “I always look at it as I can carry my load. Shaun will do a great job for us, and I have confidence in him and what he is able to do in the passing game. I feel like we will have a balanced offense.”

Ultimately, though, it will be Zimmer who sets the tone for this football team that will have an uphill battle to meet his high expectations. “I think this team follows my lead pretty good,” said Zimmer. “I’m going to lead them. I’m going to make sure that they’re paying attention, doing things right. Anytime you have a tragedy or whatever you want to call it, they’re going to be looking to somebody for strength and wisdom and all these other things.”

Pressley, Kearse Leave Good Impressions

One guy will likely make the 53-man roster, and one likely won’t, but Jayron Kearse and Jhurell Pressley shined the brightest in their final preseason tune-up.

Pressley caught a Brad Sorensen dump off and took it 28 yards for a touchdown late in the first half. Then in the third quarter, he housed a 106-yard kickoff return that might go down as the team’s best electrifying play of the preseason. “I think I turned some heads,” Pressley said.

The New Mexico grad is likely competing with fellow rookie C.J. Ham for a possible spot on the practice squad. Pressley finished the preseason with just 2.9 yards per carry on 28 attempts, five receptions for 57 yards, one receiving touchdown and one return touchdown. Ham finished at 3.2 yards per carry on 44 attempts, scored two rushing touchdowns and caught three passes for 27 yards.

Neither back was consistently strong in the run game, which means pass protection and special teams could be a deciding factor. Pressley’s kickoff return last night could be the catalyst that gives him the edge.

Kearse, on the other hand, is basically a shoe-in to contribute to the team this year, concluding an outstanding training camp and preseason in which he showed he could be the answer the Vikings have long sought at strong safety. Against the Rams, after a poor start on the Rams’ first drive, Kearse eventually finished with eight tackles, a recovered fumble, a forced fumble and several big hits, including one for a tackle for loss. Though he still needs technical refinement, Zimmer is encouraged by where Kearse is at. “He’s a big-body guy that has some range,” said Zimmer. “He’s worked exceptionally hard on his acceleration out of the break. I think there’s some good things there to work with.”

With Antone Exum, Jr., put on the waived/injured list, Michael Griffin missing time with a bad back and Anthony Harris missing previous games with an undisclosed injury, Kearse’s health has been his biggest asset as he’s moved up the depth chart. “It feels pretty good, just going out there and having the opportunity to show the coaches what I can do,” said Kearse.

Photo Credit: Luke Inman

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