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Sunday slant: Secrecy leads to speculation with Minnesota Vikings

Teddy Bridgewater is reportedly dealing with “minor shoulder soreness,” according to ESPN, but the Minnesota Vikings would have done well to clarify instead of leaving it open to dangerous speculation.

Mike Zimmer very well may have executed the right decision to sit starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on Thursday night, but his explanation left media frustrated and fans wondering if there really should be concern.

Zimmer doesn’t need to be too concerned about the media, but after gaining incredible support from the fan base over his two years at the helm of the Minnesota Vikings, he should be at least aware of how his comments at halftime and following Thursday’s preseason game were perceived.

Some fans wholeheartedly support Zimmer’s right to secrecy; others have compared his Thursday reaction to Dennis Green’s combative ways with the media during his tenure or raised concerns that the honeymoon could be turning more slowly like it did during the Brad Childress era.

Perhaps most surprising was the way Zimmer treated a question from former Vikings punter and current sideline analyst Greg Coleman following the game on KFAN. After Zimmer would only say at halftime that it was “my decision” to sit Bridgewater, it naturally led to all kinds of speculation on what might be wrong with the third-year quarterback. Was Bridgewater simply given the night off because of concern about whether or not he would be adequately protected against a formidable Seattle Seahawks defensive line (turns out the protection for Shaun Hill was very good)? That was one line of thinking.

Was the quarterback not feeling well? Or, worse yet, was Bridgewater injured during pregame warmups?

Nothing was held off the speculation table during the broadcast by the team’s own Vikings Entertainment Network, including the potential that there could be some sort of disciplinary action for the high-character Bridgewater, and certainly speculation was even wilder among fans.

“You think there’s some disciplinary action with Teddy Bridgewater?” Zimmer said when questioned about that possibility by Coleman on KFAN after the game. “He’s like the nicest kid in the history of life. No, there was no disciplinary action. No. My decision. Do I have the right to do that?”

Zimmer certainly has the right, but when questions aren’t answered it leads to speculation.

It has become part and parcel of the multi-billion-dollar NFL these days. Fans are interested. Fans are passionate about their team. In most cases, they want to know what is up with their beloved team, even if some fans have equal disdain for the media, as many tweets indicated.

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It is the Vikings’ right to withhold injury information during the preseason, when injury reports aren’t required, but they can’t control the speculation that will inevitably ensue if those questions aren’t answered, especially when Bridgewater had practiced all week, seemingly without any obvious reason for concern.

After ESPN reported on Friday night that Bridgewater was held out because of a sore shoulder, Zimmer was asked about that on Saturday. He said he wouldn’t comment on injuries.

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Again, his right. At least Zimmer said there was “no concern” about Bridgewater, but the fact that Bridgewater only took snaps on running plays and didn’t throw a pass in Saturday’s practice would seem to prove the ESPN report correct.

Zimmer is usually a straight shooter, even if he bristles at certain questions about injuries. But if pressure is coming from above him, like from general manager Rick Spielman, to take the tone he did on Thursday, it’s only making Zimmer look bad.

Perhaps the decision to sit Bridgewater will benefit Shaun Hill and give the decision makers a better idea of how he operates with the first-team offense in case that is needed. If he had failed, it could have given the Vikings the impetus to look for a younger backup with a stronger arm. After all, they were reportedly interested in Nick Foles when he became available, before he signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. Instead, Hill performed well.

“I thought Shaun did a nice job,” Zimmer said. “He did a good job directing protections. I thought our offensive line protected him well (Thursday) night. We made some plays down the field vertically. It allowed us to continue to move the ball. I thought that was good. It was good for Shaun to get in there and play. We have to find out about him as well.”

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Bridgewater said he wanted to play, but it was curious that just days after Zimmer said he would let Adrian Peterson play sparingly in the preseason if he wanted to that he didn’t give Bridgewater that option. In some ways, those cases are different because the Bridgewater decision appears to be injury-related. But if Zimmer had just said that on Thursday it would have put the speculation to bed and turned out the lights on the conspiratorial speculation.

“I would love to be out there with my guys, but it was Coach Zimmer’s decision and I’m going to leave it at that,” Bridgewater said. “… You work hard throughout the week preparing for game. I wish I could be out there.

“It was Coach Zimmer’s decision and you don’t argue with Coach Zimmer.”

In the smaller picture of a preseason game, sitting Bridgewater because of “minor shoulder soreness,” as ESPN described it, isn’t a big deal.

In fact, there is one potential big-picture benefit: If this does become a trend in future years to limit preseason exposure for the bigger stars, it would further underscore the farce that are preseason games, at least in the context of full-priced tickets – and perhaps encourage the NFL to acknowledge the unnecessary nature of having four preseason games if their most marketable players are only playing a total of what amounts to less than a full game – a couple series in the opener and little more than a half in the third game – over a four-game preseason stretch.

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Seattle and Arizona, two of the best franchises in the NFC over the past few years, are also two of the most forthcoming with information, indicating that secrecy, at least when it comes to injuries, isn’t the key to success some franchises seem to believe.

The Vikings are within their preseason rights to decline comment or be vague about injuries at this time of year, even if the evidence was obvious with the cases of Jarius Wright’s hamstring, Cordarrelle Patterson’s shoulder and Taylor Heinicke’s leg. The information isn’t so obvious with backup offensive lineman Mike Harris and his illness, and Harris is also within his right to not be specific about it.

But, in all cases of being vague or declining comment, speculation can be far more dangerous than actual clarification.


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