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Zulgad: Former Viking Teddy Bridgewater has chance to take off with Jets

By Judd Zulgad

The optimism surrounding Teddy Bridgewater had never been higher than it was on Aug. 28, 2016.

Entering his third season as the Vikings’ starting quarterback, Bridgewater completed 12 of 16 passes for 161 yards with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph in playing the first half in a preseason victory over the visiting San Diego Chargers. There was a feeling that Bridgewater, a first-round pick by the Vikings in 2014, was ready to take a significant step in his maturation as a quarterback.

Two days later, Bridgewater crumpled to the grass during a noncontact drill during practice at Winter Park and, that fast, everything changed. A story in ESPN The Magazine has described the gruesome injury as Bridgewater’s left leg separating at the knee. He had dislocated his knee and torn multiple ligaments, including the ACL. If not for the quick action of athletic trainer Eric Sugarman, Bridgewater could have lost part of his leg at the age of 23.

Bridgewater was beloved by coach Mike Zimmer, his teammates and, from all accounts, everyone who crossed paths with him in the Vikings organization. But the Vikings knew that even after watching Bridgewater spend so many months rehabbing from the knee injury, and getting back on the field for a small portion of a game against Cincinnati last season, relying on him to take over a team coming off a 13-3 season and an appearance in the NFC title game wasn’t realistic.

Bridgewater was one of three quarterbacks who walked away from the Vikings after last season — joining Case Keenum (Denver) and Sam Bradford (Cardinals) — while big-name free agent Kirk Cousins was signed to a three-year, $84 million deal to take over as the starter. There is little doubt that of the three quarterbacks who left town, there is only one Zimmer and the rest of the Vikings are rooting for to have as much success as possible.

That would be Bridgewater, who signed a one-year, $6 million contract with the New York Jets, hoping to get a chance.

It would not be a reach to say Zimmer loved Bridgewater like a son and that having to watch Bridgewater leave town was extremely difficult. It also would not be a reach to say that if Zimmer is spending time during training camp paying attention to one player that is not on his team that it’s Bridgewater.

So far, Bridgewater has been doing better than anyone could have expected. He completed 7-of-8 passes for 85 yards with a 16-yard touchdown pass during two series in the preseason opener against Atlanta. Bridgewater entered that game as the Jets’ second quarterback in the second quarter.

Bridgewater played the entire second half in the Jets’ preseason loss to Washington on Thursday, completing 10-of-15 passes for 127 yards with a 16-yard touchdown and an interception. He also ran the ball once for 4 yards, despite wearing a brace on his knee.

The Jets used the third-overall pick in this year’s draft to select Sam Darnold of Southern Cal. The hope is he will soon become the organization’s long-awaited franchise quarterback. But there is a case to be made that Bridgewater — not Darnold and not 39-year-old Josh McCown — should be New York’s starting quarterback on opening day.

Nate Davis of USA Today made the case in this article.

It would make sense to have Bridgewater start while Darnold spends time observing and learning. That’s what Bridgewater did in 2014, while veteran Matt Cassel began the season as the starter. Cassel was injured in a Week 3 loss at New Orleans, opening the door for Bridgewater to take over.

As Davis points out, Bridgewater winning the starting job would put New York in a position to potentially move him before the Oct. 30 trade deadline. Just as the Vikings were willing to trade a first-round pick to the Eagles for Bradford after Bridgewater got hurt, a team that loses its QB might be willing to surrender a high pick to the Jets for Bridgewater, if he is playing well and New York finds itself ready to transition to Darnold.

Bridgewater starting for the Jets for an extended period could make things very interesting for the Vikings. They will face the Jets in Week 7 in New Jersey.

It would make for a great storyline if Zimmer’s standout defense ends up trying to stop the guy he once believed would be his long-term quarterback.

The Vikings wouldn’t want to see Bridgewater have success on that day, but that would be the only time this season anyone associated with the franchise would be rooting against him.

The post Zulgad: Former Viking Teddy Bridgewater has chance to take off with Jets appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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