ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In just his second season in the NFL, Teddy Bridgewater earned a spot alongside the game's best quarterbacks.
In 2015, as he led the Vikings to an 11-5 record and a division title, the 2014 first-round pick threw 14 touchdown passes and ran for three more scores as he earned a Pro Bowl berth as an alternate.
Six seasons later — after a serious knee injury changed the trajectory of his career — Bridgewater believes he's returned to that level of play.
"Right now, I'm just at that point where I feel really good," Bridgewater said after the first practice of minicamp. "[I] feel good mentally, spiritually, physically. Every day I come here, I have a smile on my face. [The] energy is positive here, and it's first class. So being in that type of environment, you have no choice but to feed off that energy. I'm feeling like … if you want me to say I feel like 2015, then I do. I'm just a couple years older, and it takes a little longer for me to get warmed up. I feel pretty good."
Bridgewater said he believes he showed that same caliber of play last year, as well. Through the first nine games of the year — his first season as a starter since 2015 — Bridgewater had thrown 11 touchdowns and six interceptions while posting six games with at least a 98.5 passer rating. Against Tampa Bay in Week 9, though, Bridgewater suffered an internal knee injury that he revealed Tuesday "lingered" the rest of the season.
"I think I was playing some really good football," Bridgewater said of his start to the season. "We had guys who were having career years. I think once we played in Tampa that second game, and I took a shot, I probably should've just shut it down for the rest of the season. I just love this game, and I never take it for granted."
Bridgewater said he has since fully recovered as he turns his attention toward a quarterback competition in Denver. During the media-viewing portions of practices, Bridgewater has impressed both with his connection with Jerry Jeudy and his ability to find a variety of players down the field.
"I think it might be overlooked," Bridgewater said of his ability to throw downfield, "but at the same time, I'm a guy who just takes what the defense gives me. When you play this game, you're going to have your shots when you push the ball, then you're going to have some plays where it's conservative.
"This offseason, I've just been trying to complete the football by pushing the ball down the field, crossing them over the field, throwing a shallow cross and throwing it to the back out of the backfield. I'm just trying to complete the football because if I complete the ball to our guys, we have a high chance of making a big play. I'm having fun in the process, and I'm just looking forward to finishing this minicamp strong and head into training camp."
In the midst of the battle for the starting job, Bridgewater also said he's tried to avoid focusing on the minutiae. After a day in which he threw no interceptions but Drew Lock tossed three touchdown passes in a red-zone period, Bridgewater said his approach is to "just keep shooting."
"You don't get carried away in what's going on," Bridgewater said. "You just keep playing ball. When I'm out there, I understand my job is just to [get] completions, get the ball to my guys and not my opponents, and keep our offense on the field. Everything else will take care of itself. It's one play at a time where you're out there. If you look too far ahead, that's when you fall.
"Just keep shooting. That's the mindset."