MINNEAPOLIS -- What is behind Teddy Bridgewater in his rehab from the knee injury he suffered last Aug. 30 might not be as significant as what is before him.
The quarterback has not been cleared to participate in practice, beyond throwing to receivers during the Minnesota Vikings' individual drills as part of his rehab work. The dates at which he can work at full speed, or plant his left leg and cut, or absorb contact to his knee, remain unknown, and even as the Vikings hope for the best for their 24-year-old quarterback, they cannot approach their future from a framework in which they know they'll be able to count on him.
Still, in Bridgewater's work to return from a dislocated left knee and multiple torn ligaments, there have been moments that have stirred optimism. When coach Mike Zimmer came back from a two-week break following eye surgery and watched Bridgewater throw in person again, he was struck by how much better the quarterback looked in just a short amount of time. The receivers who have worked with Bridgewater during individual drills have noted how much zip the quarterback is putting on the ball -- to the point where it seemed as though he'd never been hurt. And in the midst of a tedious rehab process, there have been Bridgewater's smiles, his playful on-field dance moves, his optimism in the face of an uncertain future.
"I have been around this game for a long time, and I do not think I have ever seen as devastating of an injury as that," tight end Kyle Rudolph said. "When you have a road as long as he does ahead of him, it is [easy] to lose sight of having that positive mind-set each and every day, because you are never going to see a huge jump. It is a little bit each and every day, and yet he seems to be one of the most positive and energetic guys, whether it is around the locker room, out here as an individual, at practice walking up and down, keeping everybody involved. That is why everybody loves him, and that is something that makes him such a special kid."
Bridgewater has been allowed to do more lateral movement as part of his rehab, and he's been able to go through many of the Vikings' quarterback drills with the four other passers on the roster before returning to his rehab work while the Vikings begin team drills. A black brace covers most of his left leg, and the Vikings are able to control almost all of the variables in his rehab at this point. If Bridgewater's return is successful, it will ultimately depend on how his body holds up at a position where overcoming adverse circumstances -- a wet field, a disrupted pocket, a defender that necessitates an off-balance throw -- is everything.
There are few on the Vikings' roster, though, who doubt Bridgewater can be successful if and when his leg is healthy. The snippets they've seen of him this spring, however incomplete they might be, have done enough to fortify their trust in Bridgewater.
"It's just the way he gets the ball out," wide receiver Laquon Treadwell said. "He's getting the ball out before you're breaking. He tells me he's spent a lot of time studying film. A lot of things he would say he was messing up on, he's looked 10 times better this year. When you go through an injury like that, film is your friend. You've just got to stay hungry and believe in yourself. He'll be fine.
"He looks great -- really great. It's like he was never hurt."