A sloppy Sunday practice and Monday off day are all but forgotten after a newsworthy Minnesota Vikings practice this afternoon. Speculation ruled the airwaves, with fans and the media anxiously anticipating Teddy Bridgewater’s return to the field. Bridgewater wasn’t the only player to resume practices, though, as the Vikings welcomed a few needed names to the huddle on Tuesday.
Joining Bridgewater were Shaun Hill, Eric Kendricks, Sharrif Floyd, Matt Asiata, and Matt Kalil, as well as a tight end fighting to make his way onto the final 53-man roster. Rhett Ellison, who missed all of training camp while rehabbing a torn patellar tendon, was activated off the PUP list and returned to practice for the first time this offseason.
Xavier Rhodes, who left last week’s game with a hamstring injury, missed his third straight practice. Anthony Harris and Scott Crichton accompanied him on the sidelines with undisclosed injuries.
The Vikings’ announcement sparked an intriguing conversation around the team’s tight end situation. With Ellison healthy, Minnesota now has four tight ends deserving of a roster spot; Kyle Rudolph, David Morgan, MyCole Pruitt, and the former USC fullback. While Rudolph and Pruitt are near locks to make the team, it’s Morgan and Ellison who will battle for time as the team’s third, do-it-all tight end.
Where Pruitt and Rudolph thrive as pass catchers, Morgan and Ellison have the ability to line up anywhere on the field for the Vikings. Through two preseason games, Morgan has shown he’s more than capable of handling an Ellison-like role; pass protecting, running routes, run blocking, lining up at fullback, and more.
But Ellison healed more quickly than originally anticipated, and Zimmer had nothing but praise for the fifth-year tight end. “Rhett is a great kid, team guy through and through,” he said. “It’s nice to get him back on the field.” If Ellison is indeed healthy, he makes Zach Line an expendable piece at fullback. Both Ellison and Morgan can handle lead-blocking duties, and their skills in the passing game make holding onto four tight ends an attractive option for the Vikings.
Teddy Throws (But not deep)
Bridgewater is back, and though he was limited in practice, his return is good news for a Vikings team desperate for health at quarterback. Both Bridgewater and Shaun Hill, who sat out this weekend’s practices as part of normal veteran rest, participated in individual and team drills this afternoon.
The team appeared to keep Bridgewater on a “pitch count,” limiting the third-year quarterback to short and intermediate throws. He didn’t participate in a deep ball drill at the beginning of practice, and most of Bridgewater’s throws didn’t travel past 15 yards, per Matt Vensel. When asked about Bridgewater’s status for the rest of the preseason, Zimmer didn’t express any concern, regardless if his quarterbacks sits or plays.
“I don’t know, he’s played an awful lot of games. It’s not like he’s a first year rookie. He played eight the first year and what, 17 last year. So he’s played in 25 games or something like that. We’re going to continue to do what we think is best.”
Within the organization, Bridgewater is the face of the franchise, with little to prove to the coaching staff or front office. He was drafted in the first round for a reason and has met expectations to this point; winning 11 games in 2015 and leading the Vikings to an NFC North title. Zimmer knows what he has in his quarterback and made it clear he’s comfortable “err[ing] on the side of caution” when it comes to preseason playing time.
Matt Kalil participated in a portion of team drills after leaving practice early on Sunday. While he’s struggled at times this preseason, he earned praise from Zimmer following this afternoon’s session. “He has been as good as any of the offensive lineman we have right now,” Zimmer said. “The communication has been good, he’s been working hard on the backside on runs, he’s done good.”
Taylor Heinicke, who arguably put the Vikings in this quarterback situation with a kick throw a window, is out of his walking boot. He was in the running to back up Bridgewater and is now a long-shot to make the final 53-man roster.
The Vikings didn’t need Sharrif Floyd and Eric Kendricks last Thursday, but the two starters returned in limited capacity to team drills.