EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Finally, Teddy Bridgewater has become truly part of the team again.
He'll stand on the sideline this weekend when the Minnesota Vikings play at Washington, backing up Case Keenum with no guarantee he'll play, but his mere presence in that No. 5 white-and-purple jersey will be a major milestone.
Walking without crutches for his surgically repaired left knee was the first big step, followed by a return to the field for football activities. Now he's on the active roster , ready for action if Keenum is significantly injured or deemed ineffective.
"It's always hard when the guys are going to work and you have to go in the opposite direction," Bridgewater said Thursday . "It's like when all the kids are going to P.E. and you have to go detention or something like that."
There were days, undoubtedly, when the rehabilitation process felt like punishment. His refusal to let it get him down is one of the reasons he made it back. Now he's able to participate along with his teammates in the fun part, their present-day gym class.
"Just being activated, knowing that I will be suiting up, coming out of that locker room and getting that rush and that adrenaline going through my blood and my body, it's great feeling," Bridgewater said.
The final exam will be how his knee, which was dislocated, resulting in multiple ligament tears, holds up during a game against a pass rush with tacklers coming at him fast from every direction. Bridgewater has not played in a non-preseason game in 22 months.
"No concerns at all. Our training staff, our strength and conditioning staff, they've done a great job of preparing me to get to this point," Bridgewater said. "So once I get out there, there's no regrets, no holding back. Whatever's meant to happen, happens. I trust God's plan for me, and I'm going to go with that."
For the first time since the third game of his rookie year, Sept. 21, 2014, at New Orleans, Bridgewater will begin Sunday as the backup. Matt Cassel was hurt that afternoon, beginning of Bridgewater's takeover of the position until that fateful practice on Aug. 30, 2016.
The Vikings (6-2) have been playing well enough behind Keenum that, for now, there's no obvious reason to replace him. Bridgewater said he's not concerned about when he'll have the starting job back, nor whether he'll get any playing time down the stretch, even in a low-pressure situation. He's not blind to the two-game lead the Vikings have in the NFC North race, with momentum they'll be trying to maintain.
"We're just going to go with the flow by how the game goes," Bridgewater said. "If I'm asked to go in, then I'll go in. I won't have any hesitation. I'll go out there and give it my all. But you always hope for the best, and I wish and I hope that we can just go out there and handle our business."
One of the beneficial byproducts of the 14-month recovery was all the time spent in the weight room. By all accounts, Bridgewater's arm has emerged with more strength. His leg will be more scrutinized, but coach Mike Zimmer said he's seen no hesitation or limitation over the past three weeks of practice with the team.
"I don't know if that's the most impressive thing," Zimmer said. "Just coming back is the most impressive from what he had to go through."
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