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Bridgewater cleared to rejoin Vikings for practice this week

(AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

By DAVE CAMPBELL

AP Pro Football Writer

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) Teddy Bridgewater has been cleared to rejoin the Minnesota Vikings for practice, roughly 14 months after a dislocation and multiple ligament tears in his left knee put his leg and career at risk.

Coach Mike Zimmer said Bridgewater will be eased back in with the team beginning Wednesday.

"We're not going to dose him out," Zimmer said Monday, after the 24-year-old quarterback visited his surgeon, Dr. Dan Cooper at the Carrell Clinic in Dallas, and was given the green light to participate.

Bridgewater tweeted a simple "thank you" after getting the good news, effectively ending a grueling rehabilitation over the past year-plus.

When his knee buckled during a routine drop-back drill in a preseason practice on Aug. 30, 2016, the Vikings were devastated and the course of the franchise was altered significantly.

Director of sports medicine and head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman was credited for his fast action in saving Bridgewater from potential amputation due to the nerve damage that occurred during the massive injury.

"It's a great deal for Teddy," said Zimmer, who has been especially fond of the player the Vikings drafted with the final pick in the first round of the draft in 2014 a few months after he was hired. "We'll take it one day at a time just like we have the last 14 months."

Bridgewater has kept a constant presence but a low profile at team headquarters throughout his recovery. The only interview he has granted since he was hurt came on the first day of training camp, when he expressed full confidence that he'd return to action. His attitude throughout the ordeal has made a strong impression on teammates, coaches, staff and fans alike.

"He could be somewhere else but he'd rather sit here, grind it out with us and stuff like that," running back Jerick McKinnon said. "I think as teammates it makes us feel like, `OK, he's with us.'"

Bridgewater remains on the physically unable to perform list. The Vikings have three weeks to evaluate him before having to decide whether to add him to the active roster or place on him on injured reserve and keep him out for a second straight season. Zimmer said Bridgewater would stay on the PUP list "until he's ready to play."

Further mystifying the team's quarterback situation is the lingering problem with Sam Bradford's twice-repaired left knee, described by Sugarman last week as "wear and tear," that has kept the starter out of 4+ games.

Backup Case Keenum has made a strong case, no pun intended, to keep the job. He has a 93.1 passer rating and 1,134 yards on 159 attempts, with five touchdowns and only four sacks and one interception. Despite a solid performance Sunday in the team's 23-10 victory over Green Bay , Zimmer declined to name Keenum the starter.

Though Bridgewater wouldn't be ready, Bradford's status has been officially day to day since he first experienced trouble the day after the season opener.

The Vikings (4-2), who tied the Packers for first place in the NFC North, host Baltimore this weekend.

"We'll just see how it goes," Zimmer said.

The scheme has clearly changed since Bridgewater last led the huddle, when Norv Turner was the offensive coordinator and Pat Shurmur was the tight ends coach.

Turner resigned at midseason last year, and Shurmur has put his stamp on the system after a full offseason to implement preferences and evaluate strengths. Keenum's accuracy and mobility have been good fits, as have McKinnon's abilities to run through different spots on the line and take screen passes for long gains.

Zimmer, however, expressed no concern about Bridgewater being behind with the game plans.

"He's been taking the script every week and running it by himself over there on the other fields," Zimmer said. "He'll be ready. Teddy is smart."

Keenum, true to his upbeat nature and the job requirement of being the second-stringer, expressed no stress about the uncertain status from week to week.

Bradford, Bridgewater and Keenum all have expiring contracts, but the long-term plan at the critical position will be left for another day.

"The more I practice and the more I play with those guys, we will form some more chemistry," Keenum said. "I feel more comfortable about what I'm thinking and what I'm seeing, and that makes us a better football team."

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Updated October 16, 2017

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