Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater went down during a non-contact play during team drills Tuesday afternoon. It was later announced that he dislocated his knee, completely tore his ACL and had other structural damage. Most people thought it marked the end of the team’s season.
One person who did not think that way, though, was head coach Mike Zimmer. He has faced adversity in the past, even since joining the Vikings in 2014. He had to spend his first year as an NFL coach with running back Adrian Peterson, a future Hall of Famer, suspended.
Zimmer knows that there is still hope for this team moving forward, and he is not planning to let his team sulk over the injury.
“We’re not going to stick our heads in the sand. We’re not going to tuck our tail between our legs. We’re not looking for excuses. We’re going to go out and fight like we always do,” the head coach said in a press conference following Bridgewater’s injury. “We’ve got some great football players on this team. We’ll figure ways to win football games if he’s not here and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Now, Bridgewater is a key part to what the Vikings were hoping to accomplish this season, no one is going to argue that, but the truth of the matter is that the team was not built around him. Since Zimmer arrived, he has been focusing on building one of the best defenses in the NFL and controlling the clock with a strong running game.
The running game should not be an issue as long as Peterson remains in the backfield. He has proven he doesn’t need a top-tier quarterback in order to succeed, and now it appears he will have to do the same in 2016. The team also has Jerick McKinnon, who appears to be one of the up-and-coming backs in the NFL, and Matt Asiata working behind Peterson.
The Vikings are also returning all 11 starters on a defense that was No. 5 in the NFL for points allowed a year ago, allowing an average of 18.9 points per game. Not only are the Vikings returning all their defensive starters from a year ago, but they have added pieces as well.
They signed free agent safety Michael Griffin this offseason, as well as outside linebacker Emmanuel Lamur. Second-year players Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter and Trae Waynes also appear to much improved. Linebacker Audie Cole and defensive tackle Shamar Stephen are also returning to the defense after having to miss most of last season with season-ending injuries.
If there was one area the defense really needed to improve at, though, it was creating turnovers. It is just the preseason, but the Vikings defense already looks much improved in that regard.
“The thing about turnovers is, if you can get them and you’re doing things right, you have a chance to - I don’t know if blowout the team is the right word - you have the chance to get bigger leads because you’re going to have more opportunities with the football,” Zimmer said after the Vikings’ third preseason game when they recorded four takeaways. “That was a good example of the things we did (against San Diego).”
Harrison Smith was able to pick off a ball that went sailing into the air after Waynes knocked it out of a receiver’s hands. Rookie defensive backs Jayron Kearse and Mackensie Alexander were also able to come down with their second interceptions of the preseason, while rookie defensive end Stephen Weatherly was able to recover a fumble forced by defensive end Justin Trattou.
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Plays like these have come in an abundance for the Vikings during their first three preseason games, and should continue on into the regular season. The coaches and players have all been preaching about getting their hands on the ball and creating turnovers, instead of just knocking the ball away, and it looks like they are turning their words into actions.
The sky of the 2016 season certainly appeared to be falling when Bridgewater first went down, and was taken to the hospital via an ambulance, but there are still plenty of reasons this team can be successful. There are just too many talented players for them to surrender before the season even begins.
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“We can talk all we want, but we have guys in that locker room like Everson Griffen, Harrison Smith, Brian Robison, Anthony Barr, Kyle Rudolph, Adrian Peterson, Matt Kalil, (Joe) Berger, (Brandon) Fusco and Andre Smith,” Zimmer said. “I can go down the line and I’ll take them with me into an alley anywhere.”