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Bleacher Report – Vikings

The lasting impact of Teddy Bridgewater on the Minnesota Vikings

By Matthew Coller

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If you walk through the locker room entrance that players used coming off the practice field at Winter Park and look directly to your right, you will see the the Korey Stringer tribute locker and the space where Adrian Peterson had the presidential suite — which was just two lockers to himself. In 2017, with Peterson gone, the Minnesota Vikings moved Teddy Bridgewater’s locker over to that space, putting him next to rookie Dalvin Cook, an intentional move, and alongside team leaders Terence Newman, Eric Kendricks and Case Keenum. They called it “The Neighborhood.”

There were rules in The Neighborhood. Every member must pay a residence fee, $1 per day, placed in a plastic jar that looked like it once was home to cheeseballs. There were fines for sulking and farting — and as this reporter found out first hand, loitering was also a finable offense. Landlord Bridgewater oversaw the operation — and said he was donating Neighborhood funds to charity.

“Teddy started the whole thing,” Neighborhood Member Anthony Harris said Friday. “It was for fun and jokes but at the same time, he got everyone involved. It could be somebody on the total other side of the locker room and they would come over and he’d say, ‘alright you have to give us a dollar for coming over here.’ It was fun stuff for us to laugh at, help the day go by, but it also allows you to get to know people.”

It’s going to be weird as hell for remaining Neighborhood Members, those who paid the visitor’s fee and all of his other former teammates to look across the field on Sunday night and see Bridgewater wearing the jersey of the team they defeated in the Minneapolis Miracle playoff game last season. At the same time, on the minds of many Vikings players will be the reverberations of the way Bridgewater not only helped drive their 13-3 season without starting a single game, but also the way he impacted their lives and careers in the process.

His rehab was a major part of that.

On August 31, 2016, the entire trajectory of the Vikings’ franchise was changed when Bridgewater’s knee gave way to one of the most severe, gruesome injuries that has ever happened to an NFL player — so bad that in the ambulance, trainer Eric Sugarman told Teddy that he could lose his leg. At the time, the odds were very low that he would ever return to the field, much less be the up-and-coming franchise quarterback he once was.

He remained around the team in ’16 and throughout the entire offseason in ’17. Outsiders only saw glimpses on Instagram of his progress. Bridgewater occasionally would send out a clip of him throwing the ball or working with one of those rope ladders you lay on the ground. But his teammates saw the whole thing up close, from the crutches to his return to practice during OTAs to being officially activated to standing on the Washington sideline wiping away tears to taking the field for the first time at the end of a blowout against Cincinnati.

“Being a teammate of Teddy’s when he went through what he went through and seeing the way the handled the adversity that he went through, I think he impacted our team more in the two years that he was battling that catestrophic knee injury than he did as the actual starting quarterback just because of the mindset and mentality that he took every single day attacking his rehab,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said this week.

At any given time in an NFL locker room, you will see guys rehabbing injuries. Heck, at the same time Teddy was returning, Dalvin Cook was on crutches and Nick Easton was using one of those scooter things to motor around because of an ankle injury. This one was different though. It was potentially career ending — and it happened to a player whose future was as bright as any young quarterback in the NFL.

“I think it was just the significance of the knee injury, the prognosis initially of how much of an uphill battle he had to get back to where he was before the injury,” Rudolph said. “A lot of guys attack ACL rehabs and do an unbelievable job but Teddy had a whole lot going on outside of that. For him just to come every single day with a mindset to get better without really any light at the end of the tunnel was pretty special to watch.”

Having Bridgewater along for the ride as an inspirational story was enough to add positive vibes to a team with Super Bowl aspirations. But once he was activated and started practicing, the potential existed for an awkward situation. Keenum was in the midst of a remarkable season playing in place of starter Sam Bradford, yet there were hints that head coach Mike Zimmer might be concerned enough about Keenum’s gunslinging to give the keys back to Bridgewater.

It’s hard to say how close that ever came to happening — though Zimmer’s rant about Keenum’s interceptions after the Vikings’ win in D.C. made it seem like the rope wasn’t going to be long.

If Bridgewater was like the rest of us, he might have been waiting and hoping for the next Keenum crazy throw to land in the hands of the opposition — maybe hope for something just bad enough to cost Keenum the starting job without costing the team a playoff position. But that wasn’t Bridgewater’s approach. In fact, against Washington, Bridgewater pointed out something in the defense’s coverage that Keenum ultimately used to throw a long touchdown pass.

“Case talked all the time when Teddy wasn’t around that it was really good and special to have a guy like Teddy in his mind in the locker room, a guy that was always helping him point out things,” Vikings quarterback Kyle Sloter said on Friday. “Teddy has a great mind for the game. I know he wanted to play, but just having him around, Case takes about last year how much he appreciated it. Teddy was a huge part of his success last year.”

When Bridgewater finally did step back on the field against Cincinnati, Keenum led a “Teddy, Teddy” cheer with 60,000 or so chanting along.

“I might have been one of the guys trying to start the ‘Teddy’ chant there,” Keenum said after the game. “I couldn’t be more excited for him.”

Tremendous ovation for @teddyb_h2o. Welcome back! #Skol pic.twitter.com/jLIM6HSc3y

— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) December 17, 2017

Bridgewater and Sloter quickly became friends. The other two quarterbacks in the room were married, so Bridgewater and Sloter spent their free time going head-to-head playing video games.

“He’s very good at Madden,” Sloter said. “That’s what we play most of the time. He’s a guy that misses NCAA Football, like a lot of us. That was more his game than Madden but he’s very good at Madden.”

The Vikings signed Sloter as a developmental quarterback after he put on a show in the preseason for the Denver Broncos. It didn’t take long for Bridgewater to have an influence on the former Northern Colorado QB.

“I think he’s very detailed in his preparation,” Sloter said. “Teddy was very detailed all the way down to the last detail on every single play, what needed to be accomplished, responsibilities, things like that. I think he really helped me focus on those small details that make a play good and that’s one of the things that he’s really good at.”

“He was a huge help to me in the quarterback room last year, helping me come along and progress and really just taught me what it’s like to be a pro,” Sloter added.

In the 2017 credits, Bridgewater’s name should also appear under “assistant wide receivers coach,” according to the NFL’s leading receiver Adam Thielen, who broke out for 91 catches last year.

“Personally I wouldn’t be the receiver I am today without him,” Thielen said Thursday. “He thought like a receiver, so it was really cool to have him as a quarterback who thought like a receiver. I remember so many times last year after a game where he came up to me and said, ‘Hey you should have done this better or you could have done that better,’ and so many things that I wasn’t thinking about that he was thinking about. It was really cool.”

Thielen and Sloter both said they made New York Jets preseason games must-see TV when Bridgewater was taking the field for Gang Green. Bridgewater was part of a trio of quarterbacks that included rookie Sam Darnold and veteran Josh McCown. Thielen talked to McCown about their shared experiences with the former Vikings quarterback.

“I just really said ‘Man, how great is Teddy and how fun was he to be around?’” Thielen said. “And his face lit up. He was like, ‘What a special guy?’ Anybody who’s been around Teddy knows he can make a huge impact on you on the field and off the field. He’s just someone you want to place yourself around.”

Which leads us to a point that needs to be made when discussing Bridgewater: Sometimes the word “leadership” is thrown around so often in football that it becomes about as interesting as a dial tone or “trust the process,” but in Bridgewater’s case, teammates can be much more specific about his impact rather than just slapping a label on it and moving along.

“He doesn’t say a lot, he talks and jokes around a good bit but he’s not one of those guys who’s going to coach you to death,” Harris said. “If he wants to get a point across, he knows how to do that without overdoing it. I think guys appreciate that. His ability to communicate and reach different people in different ways, it was a special ability that he had.”

“I think a lot of times people think you’re a leader because you’re the best player or because you’re a guy that’s very vocal or because you start or something but that’s not the case,” running back Latavius Murray said. “This is an example of, you’re a leader if you lead by example. You’re a leader because of who you are and what you do, not because of your position, your status or your rank.”

The Saints took all of these things into account when they traded a third-round pick for Bridgewater as an insurance policy for future Hall of Famer Drew Brees. New Orleans head coach Sean Payton talked with Zimmer about Bridgewater at the Combine — which was in the midst of the Vikings still trying to decide on a direction at quarterback.

“I know how [Zimmer] felt about Teddy and I know how those other players that were down at the Pro Bowl felt about him,” Payton said. “At that time, Teddy wasn’t even on our radar, it was just in conversation. I think the uncertainty was just his health. Then you have the preseason with the Jets and you’re able to get another evaluation to how his knee is doing and man I thought he played real well in the preseason. I think it was after we had a chance to see him on the field post injury that we really had an interest. ”

It’s possible Bridgewater is the Saints’ future at quarterback — after all, Brees is 39 years old. It’s also possible they could trade him to Jacksonville. Or he could stick with the Saints for one year and move along in free agency to a team that will give him a starting gig.

“For me, I do not mind waiting,” Bridgewater said after he was traded to the Saints — coincidentally it was nearly two years to the day after his knee injury. “I get to learn from one of the best players to ever play this game and get to be in the room with a great group of guys. I get to learn from coach Payton also, so I look forward to that.”

With Bridgewater’s future up in the air, it appears he is simply creating similar relationships with players in New Orleans and trying to impact his new team the same way he did his former franchise.

“He is highly intelligent, he’s very calm, cool, poised,” Brees said. “He’s picked up the offense pretty quickly, he appears to be pretty comfortable. He’s got a lot of really good traits. You can tell he’s a guy that guys really like and who they will follow.”

While The Neighborhood residents and players like Thielen whose careers have been pushed along by Bridgewater will be reminded before Sunday’s game of his influence, you can bet there will be a pang in Zimmer’s mind that wonders what would have happened if Bridgewater hadn’t gotten hurt.

“He’s a guy that everybody gravitates to,” Zimmer said this week. “Teddy’s a winner, a great competitor, unbelievable person. I think the team saw how hard he worked to get back from that injury from how bad it was. I’ve got nothing but praise for him. Like I’ve said a million times, I thought he’d be the quarterback for the rest of my career. I love the kid, I love his nature, competitiveness, everything about him.”

Or maybe Bridgewater getting hurt was just a window opening when a door closed — a window for him to show his Vikings teammates how a player can effect everyone around him without playing a down.

The post The lasting impact of Teddy Bridgewater on the Minnesota Vikings appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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