When Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was inexplicably pulled from the starting lineup shortly before the team’s second preseason game at Seattle, the immediate reaction was that there may be something wrong and the prospect of having veteran backup Shaun Hill taking over as the starter wasn’t a prospect a lot of Vikings fans were thrilled about.
In his 13th NFL season, Hill had started just 34 games, posting a 16-18 record as a starter. He was the kind of veteran you want as an insurance policy at quarterback, but not one that immediately would bring a rallying cry to give him a legitimate chance to compete for the starting job.
When news broke a little before 2 p.m. local time Tuesday that Bridgewater had suffered a significant knee injury – football players have all seen gruesome injuries during their careers and the reaction from many was similar to the worst-case scenario type of injuries – the immediate response was turned to Bridgewater’s welfare and the extent of the damage done to his left knee.
However, in the business of the NFL, it didn’t take long for the mindset to switch to the fact that, with Bridgewater almost surely out for the 2016 season, Hill is now the next man up at the most important position on the field.
At a press conference two hours after the injury, head coach Mike Zimmer said that he believes Hill can handle the job and that the team has to move forward – preparing for the Los Angeles Rams in two days and the regular season opener at the Tennessee Titans in less than two weeks.
“I have confidence in Shaun,” Zimmer said. “He’s played great this preseason. He’s been in two-minute drills. He’s done a phenomenal job. The thing we have to all remember is this is about a team. This isn’t about a one-man deal. We all feel terrible if (the injury) is real significant for Teddy, but this is about the team. We have a good defensive team. Our offensive line is much better. We have good receivers. We have maybe the best running back in the NFL. This is about a team and it’s about us trying to figure out ways to win football games.”
It didn’t take long for the media world to start spinning at the possibilities of the Vikings either signing or trading for a veteran quarterback. A pair of veterans who have seemingly been on the outs with their current teams – Colin Kaepernick and Mark Sanchez – have surfaced, as have names like Josh McCown and Aaron Murray. The Chiefs came out Tuesday saying that Murray is available in trade.
With the world around them swirling at the prospect of the quarterback position, Zimmer admitted that he and General Manager Rick Spielman have already been discussing the options of potentially signing a veteran to come in to provide the depth needed following Bridgewater’s injury.
“Rick and I have been talking about it,” Zimmer said. “We’ll continue to go when we know more information about Teddy and we’ll go from there.”
In the short-term, the Vikings are likely going to bring back quarterback Brad Sorensen, who was cut earlier in the day to get the roster down to 75 players for the 3 p.m. deadline to announce cuts. Because of the difficulty of bringing in an outside player to run the offense in the final preseason game just 48 hours away, Sorenson’s limited familiarity with the verbiage of the Vikings’ play calls will likely mean that he and Joel Stave could see plenty of action against Los Angeles at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Zimmer wouldn’t discuss long-term solutions, but made it clear that Hill has done everything that was expected of him in the first three preseason games.
“I think he played good in the first preseason game,” Zimmer said. “He played good in the second preseason game against a pretty good defensive football team and he played good the other day. He didn’t play many plays, but he got us in the end zone.”
When once again asked about his confidence level in Hill moving forward, Zimmer repeated that he has done what has been expected of him and, even in a quarterback-driven league, there are 52 other players on the roster in the regular season that all contribute to winning games.
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While the anticipated loss of Bridgewater for the 2016 season is a serious blow to the team’s chances of long-term success, it’s the job of Zimmer and his coaching staff to come up with weekly game plans to accentuate what they do best and do it with the personnel they have.
“I have confidence in him,” Zimmer said of Hill. “I have confidence in this football team. To me, it’s still about the football team. If Shaun is the guy, we’re going to figure as coaches the very best way we can beat the team that we’re playing that week however we have to do it – if it’s running the ball 65 times or throwing it 65 times, it doesn’t really matter. We have a good football team and that’s what we’re going to do.”
When the expected bad news is confirmed Tuesday night or Wednesday morning – the immediate reaction of the players spoke volumes to the severity of the injury, compounded by the rare instance of the team calling immediately for an outside ambulance to take Bridgewater to a local hospital for treatment – the Vikings have to move on because that is the business of the NFL. Players get hurt, but the games keep on coming regardless of how many stars are sidelined.
Zimmer cautioned those who believe the promise of the 2016 season is now dashed not to count out the Vikings just yet. The team is going to rally around the players they have and count on the numerous talented players to get them through the current pain they’re feeling.
“We’re not going to stick our heads in the sand,” Zimmer said. “We’re not going to tuck our legs. We’re not looking for excuses. We’re going to go out and fight like we always do. We’ve got some great players on this football team. We’re going to figure out ways to win football games if he’s not here. That’s just what we’re going to do.”null