EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater spoke to the media for the first time since the start of training camp and only the second time since he went down with a gruesome knee injury on Aug. 30, 2016. Bridgewater detailed his road back to practice, his expectations of playing this season and how he's channeled the adversity of his injury into something positive.
Bridgewater opening statement
Teddy Bridgewater: It was great to be back out there yesterday working with the guys. It's been a long 14 months, but it was great to be back out there, see the reaction from the guys, the reaction from the fans. Just meant a lot to me. Got to continue to get better now. Those mini milestones -- just being able to get back on the football field yesterday, that was a mini milestone. I still have some work to do. Just looking forward to it.
How are you feeling after your first day?
TB: I was feeling pretty good. It's just great to be out there with the guys. I've been working in the dog house, in the backyard by myself so to be able to get out there with the guys, it was pretty fun and I'm feeling pretty good.
How long did you envision the moment of your return?
TB: Man, I've been thinking about that moment every day because I use it as motivation. I use that to tell myself, hey, I'm one step closer. Being out there, running out of that tunnel yesterday just did something to me in a good way.
Were you rusty at all? How comfortable were you?
TB: I felt very comfortable being out there and competing. I've been able to watch film, get a feel for the guys, how they move around and things like that. Didn't feel rusty at all. It was just good to be out there with the guys, in the huddle, calling plays. Looking those guys in the eyes and seeing those guys trust in me and I trust in those guys.
What's the one thing you want to see that's going to prove to yourself that you're ready to actually get in game action?
TB: That's just something that I'm going to have to see how I feel going forward. It could be just completing a pass down the field or making a sudden movement in the pocket. Just going to look for little things each day to do whatever I can to get back to who I was before and even better.
None of your teammates want to be the first one to hit you in practice or come close to your knee. Do you picture your first contact, too? Is that something that's in the back of your mind?
TB: Of course. I'm just waiting, actually. We have to be smart with everything. The plan is to get to the race in order to run the race. If we're not being smart and I'm not doing whatever it takes to get to the race, I'll never be able to run the race. That being said, we're just going to go out there and hope those guys continue to compete at a high level when I'm in there and don't take anything and don't hold off. Eventually when I get out there against an opponent, they're going to be coming after me. It's going to be fine. Those guys are pros, we're pros. We know how to practice. That's something Coach Zim mentioned since Day 1: Be a pro. Know how to practice.
If they need you, what's realistically the first game on the schedule you think you could play in?
TB: I'm not looking that far down the road. I have to continue to take it one day at a time, attack each day, look for mini milestones within each day. That's something I can take away from each day.
There are a lot of people who want to know whether you'll be the same player again. How do you feel about that?
TB: We'll just see when the time comes. I'm going out there whenever my time comes with a clear state of mind that whatever happens is a part of God's plan. For me to be standing right here talking to you guys about practicing yesterday and that just shows how good God is.
What is your confidence in your leg right now and its ability to hold up?
TB: I'm very confident. I wouldn't have gone out on that practice field if I wasn't. I'm going to continue to just work hard with the training staff here, been working with (head strength and conditioning coach Mark Uyeyama) and Tom and those guys and just going to continue to strengthen it, get more stability and gain more confidence as the time goes on.
What was the hardest thing, physically, about the last 14 months?
TB: The hardest thing, honestly, was just being realistic with myself. A lot of times I think people fail to be real with themselves about every situation. For me, I never wanted this situation to be about me. That's why I didn't talk to the media or anything because at the end of the day, no one's going to feel sorry for you. I just had to be real with myself and tell myself, 'Hey, it's going to take some grit, you're going to have to grind it out,' it's going to be days where you may not feel like coming to work. Those are the days that you make your most progress. Having that mindset and continuing to just hone in on myself and remind myself that that's what it's going to take. That was probably the hardest thing.
Did wearing pink cleats in honor of your mom in your first practice back hold significance?
TB: No. Those are just some of the cleats that I worked out in throughout my therapy sessions. Those are the cleats that I'm going to wear this year, most likely.
Mike Zimmer mentioned easing you back in. What does that mean to you? Do you tell them ‘give me more' when you feel like you can handle it?
TB: I just have to continue to trust the process. They come up with a great plan for me for these next couple of weeks and I'm going to continue to trust it each day. Each rep that I take, I'm going to try to give it my all. I'm going to try to maximize my opportunities.
I know you're going day-by-day, but do you believe you'll play this season?
TB: I definitely believe I'll play this year. I can't just sit here and say it. I have to continue to put the work in on the field, on the practice field and show the training staff or the higher authority that eventually I can get back to the player who I was. But right now, I'm focusing on practicing, being around the guys, interacting on the football field before I even think about playing in a live-action game.
Do you think 21 days is enough to prove to them and yourself that you can do it?
Who knows? Anything is possible. I'm going to keep that mindset and go from there.
Some players choose to rehab away from their team. How important was it for you to be around the guys even before you had yesterday to practice with them again?
TB: It was very important being around the guys. You come in, you see those guys working extremely hard and that motivates you. That's one of the biggest things that helped me get through this process.
Is it sometimes hard to take things day-by-day and not look ahead to playing in your first game back and even beyond that when you're a free agent in 2018?
TB: It's not hard taking it day-by-day at all. I learned to appreciate each day. So each day I wake up, I put my feet on the ground and I'm thankful. I'm able to walk. I'm able to stand up on my own. There was a time where I needed help, I needed assistance. I learned to appreciate the smaller things and appreciating each day is just part of appreciating those smaller things.
How do you feel about your movement to avoid a pass rush?
TB: I'm going to see how it is moving forward. I feel pretty confident in myself. Playing quarterback, you have to be the eye of a hurricane. There's a lot going on around you so you have to remain calm and that's something I take pride in.
How do you expect you'll be different as a quarterback after going through this?
TB: That's a question that will have to answer itself with my play. Moving forward, I just want to be the best player that I can be, be the best version of Teddy that I can be.
Physically do you feel like you're doing things differently than you did before?
TB: I've been working out like crazy. I know my upper body's a little stronger so I'm throwing the ball with some more zip.
What's the biggest difference in this offense. Now it's Pat Shurmur's offense. Norv Turner was still the offensive coordinator when you were playing.
TB: This offense, there are completions all over the field. I've been able to watch the quarterbacks practice, I've been on the sidelines for the home games and been able to watch the games. The guys have been competing at a high level. They've been very efficient, not taking too many sacks and playing fast. I like what I've been seeing from the offense and hope that we can continue to keep going forward.
How do you think this team has adapted to the quarterback situation and uncertainty caused by injuries this season?
TB: This team, probably some of the best guys that I've been around when it comes to adversity. These guys never put their head down. They always said, 'Hey, whoever's back there, we're going to ride with them.' That's what I've been noticing since last year. These guys, we've been dealing with adversity and they've been doing a great job of just responding. I'm proud of this team, the way we work says a lot about our coaching staff, says a lot about the players we have in this locker room and in this building.
Have you learned anything new about yourself having gone through adversity?
TB: I learned a lot about myself but I always tell myself, it's not about me. With this situation, the biggest thing I took away was that I hope that someone out there who's been counted out, who's been doubted can look at my story and say, 'Hey, here's a guy who was once counted out.' I know I haven't played in a football game yet but just being back on the practice field, I thought all hope was gone. I hope that my story can motivate someone. I always talk about it to my friends back home and all the little kids back home that there's going to be doubt, there's going to be people counting you out, but look at me. This entire past 14 months, it was never about me. I was home a lot throughout this time and I was able to speak to the kids and tell them, remind them, reassure them that the future is bright. That's the biggest thing I took away from being injured.
How bleak was the diagnosis? Was there talk from doctors that you weren't going to be able to play again?
Yeah, probably. The only thing I was worried about was the feeling in my leg at the time. It was a crazy day. It happened, it made me a better person and I'm happy to be standing here today.
At the end of these three weeks is there something you need to show yourself or is it more that you feel ready and you need to show them (the Vikings coaching/medical/training staff)?
TB: We're just going to be smart about the situation. We're going to attack each day and come up with a game plan for each day. When the time comes we'll make a decision and go from there.
During the six-week period that you had to sit out, when did you get the sense that you were going to be able to come back to practice?
TB: Honestly, I probably could have practiced a while ago but we wanted to be smart about everything. I probably wasn't ready to be around moving guys and things like that, so using those six weeks just helped me with different drills and things like that, that apply to practice, that apply to the games. Maximize those six weeks and I'm happy to be back practicing.
How long is "a while ago?" A couple of weeks?
TB: Yeah, a couple weeks.
What did your surgeon tell you on Monday?
TB: I'll keep that between he and I.
Did he or any of the other people who treated you express any marvel at how far you've come?
TB: Yeah, he was pretty proud of the work that I've put in. I visited with him a couple times throughout this process and each time he saw me he was more pleased, so that's a good thing.
Have you gotten into the flow of starting to prepare for an opponent again?
TB: Yeah, definitely. You have to create those routines and develop those habits again. I started weeks ago whether its breaking down film, getting back to my normal, weekly plan whether it's scheduling massages or going to sleep at the proper time, coming to work at a certain time and doing certain things to create those habits.
How did your teammates help you through this process?
TB: They helped me a lot. I don't want to single anyone out but I'm going to. Terence Newman, he's awesome. There's a reason he's played in this league for so long. He mentored me throughout this process, he always kept me smiling. There would be days I would come in and I probably wouldn't be too enthused about it and he would come up to me, 'Hey, where's that smile? I don't see that smile.' I guess I'm just known to smile a lot. He would bring it out of me and he always brought the best out of me. He brings the best out of a lot of guys on this team and that's the reason why he's a captain.
What are your thoughts on the Vikings muddled quarterback situation?
TB: Like I said, no one is going to feel sorry for us. Whoever is out there, we expect those guys to go out and compete at a high level and give us a chance to win. Right now, we're sitting in a good position and that just speaks volumes to the way the team has responded, the way the quarterbacks responded to this situation and the way the coaching staff has drawn up their plan for those guys.