EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Teddy Bridgewater says he believes he will be able to play at some point this season, but he isn't circling a particular date on the schedule.
Bridgewater, who returned to the practice field Wednesday, dislocated his left knee and tore his ACL and other ligaments nearly 14 months ago. The Minnesota Vikings' plan has been to ease the quarterback into practice and eventually put him in more "uncontrolled" environments in 11-on-11 work.
Coach Mike Zimmer said Wednesday he needed to see that Bridgewater had mobility and could protect himself in the pocket and avoid defenders. Taking baby steps has been critical to his approach.
"It could be just completing a pass down the field or making a sudden movement in the pocket," Bridgewater said Thursday. "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."
Bridgewater said he thought about his return to practice every day since his injury. He envisioned what it would feel like to put his jersey on, be back on the field with his teammates and command an offense the way he did in his first two seasons with the Vikings.
"Being out there, running out of that tunnel yesterday just did something to me, in a good way."
Teddy Bridgewater, on his return to practice Wednesday
Picturing how things would play out got him through some of the most difficult days of his recovery. His return to practice this week is a "mini milestone" on a long journey.
"I used it as motivation," Bridgewater said. "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."
Bridgewater probably will remain on the physically unable to perform list for the next 17 days as part of the 21-day window the Vikings have to determine whether they will activate him to the 53-man roster or move him to injured reserve for the rest of the season.
Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs said Bridgewater looked like Joe Montana in his first practice back. His return wasn't just emotional for the quarterback, but also for the players who witnessed Bridgewater go down two days before the end of the 2016 preseason.
"I was just hurt that he got hurt," Diggs said. "He was just coming off the Pro Bowl year and he had high hopes. He had big dreams to do something more and have a better year."
Once Bridgewater experiences more game-like scenarios in practice, Vikings defenders will have to make the situation as real as possible so he can see how his knee holds up. He said he's "very confident" in the strength of his left leg and would not have returned had he not been ready.
No Vikings player wants to be the first to hit Bridgewater, and it's a moment the quarterback said he's anticipating, too. But it will be an important moment that will show him whether he's ready to be back in a game this season.
"I'm just waiting, actually," he said. "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 one: Be a pro. Know how to practice."