Thursday afternoon the Minnesota Vikings will practice as a full team for the first team since mandatory mini-camp. There are five quarterbacks on the 90-man roster, yet perhaps only undrafted fifth-string camp body Wes Lunt, beyond a long shot to make the team, has a clear view of his place on the totem pole.
The battle relegated to the backburner is between backups Case Keenum and Taylor Heinicke. Both could be as high as a second-string quarterback. Both could also find their roster spot in jeopardy. It’s an odd situation. Their standing in the QB hierarchy is perpetually in flux due to the team’s primary quarterback conundrum, that of Teddy Bridgewater, who will address the media for the first time in 333 days Thursday at 11:30 a.m.
Bridgewater has left a trail of bread crumbs on social media over the past several months, hinting at progress on his surgically repaired left knee. But without proper context, these enticing visuals lack real meaning. Is he behind or ahead of schedule? Is he shooting for a certain return date? What ligaments were actually torn in the injury?
These are all necessary to ask and answer if we want to avoid red herrings.
The fourth-year quarterback, who began blossoming with charisma before the fateful injury, has been tight-lipped about all these questions, as has the team.
Bridgewater’s timetable is everything
While Bridgewater is likely in control of his own Instagram-fueled PR machine, the Vikings have also chosen to stoke the fire about his progress without providing any meaningful answers. A video clip on Twitter, for instance, of the quarterback passing at practice teased that Bridgewater was potentially close to full strength, but a press conference with general manager Rick Spielman soon after threw a wet blanket on the enthusiasm as he chalked up the video to merely one step in the ambiguous rehab process.
Bridgewater’s timetable is everything. He could go on the regular season PUP list, see his contract potentially toll and stay around at least one more year, or he could get activated sooner than expected, become Sam Bradford’s backup and, quite possibly, become a free agent and never return to Minnesota.
And there are all sorts of in-betweens.
“The external distractions are what they are,” said Spielman on Wednesday, “but internally I think everybody is on the same page and everybody wants to come together as one group. I think that’s a lot due to the leadership that Coach Zimmer brings to this football team, to make sure that everything stays on task.”
One side effect of Bridgewater’s nearly year-long radio silence has been the myth created around him. His invisibility in the public eye has led most to assume that, of course, Bridgewater is toiling day and night to return his knee to its previous strength and prove the doubters wrong — no time to talk to reporters.
Absence makes the fan grow fonder
Fans greeted Bridgewater at the doors of Julia Sears Residence Hall on Wednesday like bugs attracted to a nightlight, gravitating to the quarterback after ostensibly being starved of him for the past 11 months.
Absence makes the fan grow fonder.
Hours after the spectacle, Bridgewater was placed on the preseason PUP list — a formality, really. The Vikings aren’t ready to assume Bridgewater is in the clear with his rehab and must keep their options open if they’d like to PUP him for the first six weeks of the regular season, which still may be the likeliest scenario.
Meanwhile, Bradford continues to be a victim of the uncertainty. His contract extension talks are apparently stalled as the team waits out Bridgewater, and autograph hounds will never flock to him as they do Teddy; not as long as there’s hope Bridgewater can still be the quarterback of the future.
It won’t be a fun day for Spielman when he has to choose between the two.
“Those calls will come in time,” Spielman said. “I think we are very fortunate to have two quarterbacks like that on our roster. You know, I know what Sam did was unbelievable for the circumstances, he came in last year and he’s had a great offseason. I know Teddy and what he means to this organization and how hard he has worked in his rehab to get back on the field as quickly as he can.
“I’d rather face those type of questions or issues as we move forward, and it’ll play itself out, I’m sure.”
if the last 11 months are any indication, we’ll be left scratching our heads, having nothing more than a few clues and very few real answers.
Bradford insists his approach hasn’t — and won’t — change despite being amidst a QB circus. His calm, cool demeanor will be his ally.
“In this league, you have to come in day in and day out proving your worth,” Bradford said. “Like I said, my goal is to come in each day and get better, be a good teammate and be a good leader. I think if I do that things will take care of themselves.”
Bridgewater speaks on the record Thursday, and he’ll be asked a year’s worth of questions, from ‘What were you thinking when you felt your knee give out?’ to ‘What was it like watching last year’s team collapse?’ to ‘Who has been your confidante during this trying time?’ and probably arriving at, ‘When the heck are you going to be back?’
Maybe every question will be answered thoroughly and thoughtfully and all the haze around this murky situation will evaporate.
But if the last 11 months are any indication, we’ll be left scratching our heads, having nothing more than a few clues and very few real answers.