METAIRIE, La. — Three years after suffering a horrific knee injury, Teddy Bridgewater said Wednesday he’s feeling better than ever.
The young quarterback and fan favorite was on his way to becoming the face of the Vikings’ franchise until he tore his ACL and dislocated his left knee on Aug. 30, 2016 in the final preseason practice. He only played one more game for Minnesota, a mop-up appearance in December 2017 against Cincinnati.
Bridgewater is now entering his second season with the New Orleans Saints, and on Friday he will face his old team for the first time in the preseason opener at the Superdome. Game time is 7 p.m.
“I (can) honestly say, ‘This is the best that I’ve ever felt in my six years’ ” in the NFL, Bridgewater said after Wednesday’s practice. “I feel great mentally, physically and spiritually. So I’m looking forward to just going out there and competing, getting an opportunity to lead my troopers up and down the field and just have some fun playing football again.”
Friday will mark just the seventh game Bridgewater has played since his injury, which kept him out of the entire 2016 season. Last year, he played three preseason games for the New York Jets before was traded to New Orleans, where he got into two regular-season games, including starting the meaningless finale.
Bridgewater is the backup behind future hall of famer Drew Brees, who might not play Friday. Saints coach Sean Payton wouldn’t say if Bridgewater will start but said he will play “a lot” against his former team.
“It’ll be fun,” Bridgewater said. “Those guys know me, I know those guys. It will be great to just be on the other side. Usually, when I used to go against those guys, they couldn’t touch me. But now the red jersey is off. I’m just looking forward to seeing those guys and competing against those guys.”
TREAT HIM LIKE ANYONE ELSE
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said this week his team would “try and hit (Bridgewater) just like we do every other quarterback.”
“That’s the expectations,” said Bridgewater, who took over as the Vikings’ starter as a rookie out of Louisville in 2014 and led them to the playoffs, then made the Pro Bowl in 2015. “I don’t expect them to take it easy or anything like that.”
Bridgewater has kept up with a number of former Vikings teammates, including wide receiver Adam Thielen, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and running Dalvin Cook. He said he hasn’t heard from any former teammates since training camp began but figures it will be “all smiles” when they meet before Friday’s game.
Bridgewater has heard recently from plenty of Vikings fans who have reached on social media with well wishes.
“It just speaks highly of them as fans, the state and also sometimes it speaks highly of the athlete,” he said. “They are great people in the state of Minnesota and I enjoyed my time there and I’m enjoying my time here in New Orleans now.”
It didn’t end well, though, for Bridgewater in Minnesota. After he became a free agent in March 2018, the Vikings made little effort to re-sign him; they also did not bring back free-agent quarterbacks Case Keenum and Sam Bradford, who took over the position after Bridgewater’s injury. Instead, they quickly signed Kirk Cousins to a three-year, $84 million contract.
Bridgewater sidestepped a question about whether he was disappointed in how his Vikings tenure ended.
“This Friday, we’re looking forward to just going out there and just putting the things that we’ve practiced on tape. … That’s what more important now,” he said.
“He’s done exceptionally well,” Payton said. “A second year in what we’re doing has benefited him and he brings all those other intangibles that allow you to win that I think are necessary at that position.”
Bridgewater is one of five ex-Vikings playing for the Saints now, along with running back Latavius Murray, fullback Zach Line, cornerback Marcus Sherels and center Nick Easton.
Sherels said Bridgewater is “playing at a high level.” Line said he looks as good now as he did before his injury.
“He’s moving really well,” said Line, who played for the Vikings from 2013-16 and is entering his third New Orleans season. “I think he has the trust back in his body because I feel like that’s the hardest thing with athletes. I’ve been there. You get an injury, and you’re kind of tentative to do certain things. And he looks like he’s playing ball again. It’s fun to watch.”