Vikings GM: Decision on Bridgewater won't be until final deadline on Nov. 8
MINNEAPOLIS — General manager Rick Spielman said the Vikings will continue evaluating whether to activate Teddy Bridgewater up to the Nov. 8 deadline as intrigue deepens about the status of its three potential starting quarterbacks entering the second half of the season.
Bridgewater has been practicing behind starter Case Keenum the past two weeks, while Week 1 star Sam Bradford rehabilitates the left knee injury that has sidelined him for all but six quarters this season.
The Vikings (6-2) enter their bye alone atop the NFC North behind a staunch, star-studded defense, a diverse offense led by the conservative but mobile Keenum, with ample confidence on both sides of the ball despite encroaching uncertainty at their most pivotal position.
Spielman addressed the media Wednesday, Nov. 1, at Winter Park but offered little clarity on Bridgewater's progress and whether he would come off the physically unable to perform list next week when the Vikings return to practice.
"The decision on the quarterback will come down to what coach (Mike) Zimmer and the staff feels gives us the best chance to win," Spielman said. "Teddy, since he has started practicing over the last couple of weeks, you see him continue to progress. I know Teddy has worked extremely hard to get himself back as quickly as he can."
Bridgewater, the Vikings' 2014 first-round draft choice, has been rehabilitating for 14 months after tearing multiple ligaments and dislocating his left knee during a 2016 preseason practice. All signs point to him being activated next week, but a determination on his playing status will be scrutinized by the medical and coaching staffs.
"What's most important is what's best for Teddy Bridgewater for the long haul," Spielman said. "To say that our organization would put any player out there who's not ready to play football, we would never do that. We will play guys, regardless of who it is, when they're ready to step out on the field."
Keenum has started four and finished five of Minnesota's six victories. He has thrown for seven touchdowns and just three interceptions with an 88.8 passer rating that puts the career backup in the middle of the statistical pack among NFL starting quarterbacks.
"He's done a phenomenal job from what he's been asked to do," Spielman said.
Meanwhile, Bradford, who is earning $17 million this season and will be a free agent in 2018, only played one wobbly half Oct. 9 at Chicago since throwing for 346 yards and three touchdowns for a career-best 143 passer rating in a season-opening win over New Orleans.
The Vikings have classified his injury as lingering wear and tear from two previous ACL reconstructions on his left knee.
Spielman said it was uncertain whether Bradford would be able to resume practicing Monday.
"We're hoping that he's healthy enough to play again this season," the GM said. "I know he's done beyond what's expected to try to get back as quickly as he can."
The Vikings' next game is Nov. 12 at Washington. They play five of their next seven on the road but control their playoff destiny for the moment.
Spielman addressed a variety off topics as Minnesota embarks on the second half of the season:
On the improved play of the offensive line
I think the offensive line was the No. 1 priority for us this offseason. When we went into this, talking to (offensive coordinator) Pat Shurmur and (offensive line coach) Tony Sparano and Zim, what are the traits for your scheme, because they're different than they were in the past.
Are they going to have to do some outside zone blocking? Are they going to have to be more athletic in space? Are we going to be more effective as a screen team because you have better athletes getting out? We kind of shifted our focus on the traits that the coaches were looking for to fit the scheme that Pat wanted to run. The guys that we were able to sign fit a lot of those traits.
I know one of the things that we really focus on are guys that really like to play the game of football and are high character guys, along with the physical traits. And all of those guys fit that. When you get a group of guys like that that are working together as one, it really starts to show, and I think it has shown so far this season.
On running back Jerick McKinnon's improving play
You've always seen flashes, and there's no question about his speed and his athletic ability. And I think he just has continued to progress as a running back. He was a wishbone, option-type quarterback in college and each year you see him getting more and more comfortable at that position. I think this year with the way Pat's system fits his skill set and his experience at the position, you're starting to see how valuable a player he can be and how productive he can be.
On what is holding back second-year receiver Laquon Treadwell in the passing game:
I think he's gotten better. I think you've seen flashes. You look at the stat sheet at the end of a game and you see, whether it's Case or with Bradford, there's eight, nine, sometimes 10 different guys that have caught balls. I think within Pat's scheme, it's not designated to go to just one guy. The emergence of Adam Thielen and (Stefon) Diggs and then Laquon is slowly coming in; he's light years of where he was a year ago at this time and you've seen flashes of it. But it's how many times he is getting targeted.
On rookie running back Dalvin Cook's emergence before his season-ending knee injury Week 4
He was a pretty good running back. He gave us a lot of explosive plays on offense. You can see his playmaking ability and how everything started to jell with him. Usually, to me, the rookie running backs are the ones that are going to have the quickest impact because they can use their natural instincts for the position.
But what surprised me the most was how well he was in pass protection and how smart he was to pick up the schemes and the adjustments and the calls because there's a lot of calls being made and adjusted at the line of scrimmage. It showed us that he can definitely be a complete back, not only a first-down back, but can be an every-down back in this league.
On third-year cornerback Trae Waynes' progression and growing confidence
Even in the London game you say No. 29 (Xavier Rhodes) is not getting a lot of balls thrown his way, so he's going to get a lot of practice where he's at. Each week he's gotten better and better and better, and I think it's gaining the confidence, gaining the swagger ... I think he ended up with four pass breakups against Cleveland. All those opportunities coming his way has actually helped him progress even at a quicker rate.
Corner(back) is a very difficult position to learn to play at this level because of the offenses, the receivers you're playing against. So it takes time with a lot of these corners. People don't look back where Xavier was his rookie year and how he progressed, and I think you're seeing that same track with Trae Waynes right now.
On avoiding the national anthem crisis
I think it starts with the leadership and the group of guys we have in the locker room and coach Zim's leadership. I think the point of emphasis, and Zim has always stated this, is we're a team first. There's no one above the team. I think with the leadership we have in the locker room, with our ownership and our head coach, this is the way we've decided to do it and we've decided to do it as one.
On trusting kicker Kai Forbath a year after releasing Blair Walsh
Well, until he starts missing field goals (laughs). Kai's done a phenomenal job. I think since he's been here he's only missed one field goal, which has been pretty phenomenal. He went through his up and downs in his career early and seems to have found his groove here. It's a pretty good, comforting feeling to know that when your guy goes out there to kick the field goals that he's got a 97 percent chance of making it. I don't know what he is now, but he's pretty good plus-50 (yards) as well.
Maybe the PATs can be a little more consistent. We just try to tell him they're field goals, we don't even have PATs in the NFL anymore. He's done a phenomenal job, and we're very fortunate to have him.