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We’re Finally Seeing Teddy Bridgewater Progress Toward an NFL Return

After 13 months away from football, the Vikings quarterback will return to practice Wednesday

San Diego Chargers v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings quarterback last seen in 1807 traversing the Minnesotan wilderness charting unknown expanses of the Louisiana Purchase and who had been presumed dead for the past two centuries, is alive.

OK, that’s dramatic. But if it feels like Bridgewater is more of a distant memory than an active NFL player, that’s because he is: He hasn’t appeared in a game in more than 650 days. During training camp in August 2016, Bridgewater’s career was derailed in a freak noncontact knee injury that included a dislocated left knee and complete ACL tear. It was so severe that Bridgewater was worried he might lose his leg.

Thirteen months later, doctors cleared Bridgewater to return to practice, which he will do on Wednesday.

It’s easy to forget how promising the former first-round pick was before he got hurt, but he immediately established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in a draft class that included Derek Carr, Blake Bortles, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Johnny Manziel. Bridgewater was accurate from the pocket and on the move and could make plays with his legs while keeping his eyes downfield. Most importantly, Bridgewater combined those traits with great decision-making that is rare in young quarterbacks.

Though Bridgewater’s strong mental grasp of the game will help, it would be unrealistic to expect an immediate return to his previous level of play—if he even returns to the field soon. His mobility in the pocket will surely be diminished, but the fact he’s returning at all is remarkable.

The quarterback room in Minnesota has gotten crowded since Bridgewater last took the field for the Vikings. Three days after Bridgewater’s injury in 2016, the Vikings traded for Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford in exchange for a first- and a fourth-round pick. Bradford filled in admirably given the rushed circumstances in 2016, and entered 2017 as the possible franchise quarterback in Minnesota. He looked excellent in Week 1, but suffered a knee injury that has limited him to 11 passes since his season debut. He may not return this year.

Now the Vikings’ quarterback situation could come full circle. Bradford has a knee injury that may be career-ending, and Bridgewater could be the one to replace him. We don’t know if that is the plan—backup quarterback Case Keenum has been a solid replacement and Bridgewater probably has enough rust to be confused with the Iron Giant. The 4-2 Vikings are tied for first place in the NFC North with the Packers, who just lost Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone, and head coach Mike Zimmer is going to play whichever quarterback can best lead the team to the playoffs. And Zimmer will have 21 days to decide whether to place Bridgewater on the active roster or injured reserve after he returns to practice. But during a dark NFL season dominated by negative story lines, Bridgewater returning in any successful capacity would be a miraculous ray of light.