Vikings now must believe in Hill

MINNEAPOLIS--In Shaun they Trust. They have no choice. On Sept. 11, a mere 12 days after their Super Bowl aspirations were sucker-punched by a freak injury that destroyed franchise quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's left knee, the Minnesota Vikings ...

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Shaun Hill talks on the sidelines during Thursday's game with the Los Angeles Rams at U.S. Bank Stadium. Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Shaun Hill talks on the sidelines during Thursday's game with the Los Angeles Rams at U.S. Bank Stadium. Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS-In Shaun they Trust. They have no choice.

On Sept. 11, a mere 12 days after their Super Bowl aspirations were sucker-punched by a freak injury that destroyed franchise quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's left knee, the Minnesota Vikings open the season at Tennessee with the league's best running back, a potential top-five defense and Shaun Hill, a frail, weak-armed career backup quarterback who is 36 years old and has started eight games in the last five years.

Seven days later, they officially christen U.S. Bank Stadium, their new $1.1 billion home, with a prime-time matchup with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers team the Vikings unseated as NFC North champs a year ago.


"I don't think any of our coaches believe that Shaun Hill can't get us to where we're going," general manager Rick Spielman said Thursday night before the Vikings beat the visiting Los Angeles Rams 27-25 to complete a 4-0 preseason.


But Spielman then added, "We also have to do our due diligence to make sure who that backup is."

Spielman expected that new face to arrive by Monday. And considering Hill's history of injuries when called on to be a starter, Spielman had better make the right choice.

Two years ago, Hill was backing up Sam Bradford in St. Louis when Bradford went down before the season started. Hill was injured in the season-opening 34-6 loss to the Vikings and missed the next two months.

Undrafted rookie Joel Stave started Thursday night's final preseason game as the tentative and very likely temporary No. 2 quarterback. He has looked overwhelmed most of training camp and the preseason, and left Thursday's game with a hand injury and a possible concussion after taking a beating with two sacks and five knockdowns.

Brad Sorensen, a camp arm who was signed late, cut and signed again after Bridgewater's knee injury, finished the game but likely won't make the final roster.

The only other quarterback with the team heading into final cuts was Taylor Heinicke, a second-year pro on the non-football injury list. He is still three weeks from being able to practice after injuring his foot in a freak accident right before training camp. He tried kicking open his apartment door when he got locked out, but ended up putting his foot through a window.

Heinicke has a year of experience in Norv Turner's offense, but he is also a short quarterback who wasn't drafted out of Old Dominion.

Add all of this up and you can see why Spielman and his pro scouts didn't sleep much as they tried to figure out what to do next.


Needless to say, his peers in the general manager business were looking to take advantage of Spielman's predicament. A Super Bowl contender needs stability at quarterback, and teams were asking a lot for any players the Vikings asked about.

"People are asking for some crazy things," Spielman said. "People think that you're desperate. And we're not going to do something that-in my estimation and (after) talking with Coach (Mike Zimmer) and our ownership-puts us in a situation where we jeopardize the future of this franchise."

As for Bridgewater's future, Spielman said the team is confident that, at 23, Bridgewater will make a full recovery from a gruesome injury that saw him dislocate his left knee, tear his ACL completely and suffer other structural damage. In a release, the team said the recovery period will be "significant."

"I'm not a medical expert or doctor, but (Bridgewater's injury) is like a less than one percent chance of that happening, and it happened," Spielman said. "It is what it is. Make the best of the situation and you move forward. But I know this coaching staff, and especially Zim, when he has his back against the wall and I know our players, the one thing we really tried to bring in are guys who are passionate and who are fighters. I have no doubt this team is going to respond."

Bridgewater issued a statement through the team that said:

"I want to thank the Wilf Family and the entire Vikings organization, all of my teammates, friends, Eric Sugarman and the amazing Vikings athletic training staff and the fans who have sent me messages and wished me well. Your thoughts and prayers mean a lot to me and have helped me in this difficult time. There are great players and great leaders in our locker room who are going to fight to the end to reach the goals we set for 2016. I will be there mentally, physically and in spirit to support them accomplish those goals.

"In order to have a testimony, you have to have a test. I come from amazing DNA, I watched my mom fight and win against breast cancer. We will, as a team, attack my rehab with the same vigor and energy. My faith is strong, my faith is unwavering and my vision is clear. My purpose will not be denied."

But his presence for the next 16 games, at least, has been. And that leaves a big chunk of the Vikings' Super Bowl hopes on a journeyman who has won 16 games in 15 NFL seasons.


• Safety Michael Griffin's last long shot to make the team was snuffed out when the former first-round draft pick of the Titans missed the preseason finale against the Rams because of a back injury. The 31-year-old was brought in to challenge Andrew Sendejo for the starting strong safety job, but showed that his NFL playing days are over. He never seriously pushed Sendejo and his deteriorating skills were exposed badly before the back injury knocked him out of the third preseason game.

• Safety Jayron Kearse turned heads throughout training camp and the preseason. He didn't push Andrew Sendejo, but the seventh-round draft pick did secure a roster spot. The unusually tall safety showed a willingness to sacrifice his body on big hits and a knack for being around the ball. With no Vikings starters playing in the fourth preseason game, Kearse got the start and made plays, including a fumble recovery.

• Running back Jhurell Pressley won't make the team, but he did, as they say, put good film out there in the final preseason game. And, who knows, the Vikings could find a spot for him on the practice squad since he also returns kicks. Against the Rams, the undrafted rookie took a kickoff back 106 yards for a touchdown. He also scored on a 28-yard reception.

• Defensive tackle Toby Johnson, a second-year player who spent last season on the practice squads of three teams, is a long-shot roster bubble guy who made general manager Rick Spielman's decision on him a whole lot harder. Already deep on the defensive line, the Vikings love Johnson's passion and power. He has turned heads on a couple of occasions when he has shed blockers and destroyed a ball carrier. He had a fourth-and-one stop in the third preseason game and an interception off a batted pass in the final preseason game.

• Middle linebacker Kentrell Brothers, a rookie fifth-round draft pick, will see playing time mostly on special teams. But the undersized kid from Missouri is a tackling machine. Good instincts, a powerful lower body and a willingness to dive into the fray make him a potential starter as early as next season if the Vikings decide to move Eric Kendricks outside when Chad Greenway retires.

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