ESPN's Jon Gruden knows all too well about having to bounce back and forth with a starting quarterback who is trying to come back from injury but not do so too soon. It's the challenge the Minnesota Vikings face with starter Sam Bradford heading into Monday night's game against the Chicago Bears, which Gruden will call for the network.
Back in Gruden's coaching days, he saw that situation arise more than once. But what might have been frustrating at the time turned out OK in the end.
"The year we won the Super Bowl, Brad Johnson missed three or four games," Gruden told us by telephone Friday morning. "He had hurt his back. I wasn’t sure if he was going to play or practice or what we were going to do. But you have to distribute the reps between the next guy and figure out what you’re going to do with the offense."
That's what the Vikings have been doing with Bradford and his knee injury every week since Bradford's big performance in Week 1. Since then, backup Case Keenum has had to step in — with somewhat uneven results.
Gruden believes it will be another week with Keenum facing the Bears. He thinks Bradford's knee might not quite be ready to go.
"I think the common sense is, personally I think [Bradford is] a week away," Gruden said. "It seemed like he was limited on the practice field. He needs to test drive that knee and make sure everything is all systems go before he sees the Bears.
"I just think it’s another week before we see him."
That might be the smart, safe play for Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, even in a divisional game. It doesn't get any easier for the Vikings, as they get set to face the Green Bay Packers in Week 6 at US Bank Stadium.
And as Gruden points out, the decision to play a player is not just on Zimmer's head. He will be getting input — perhaps too much so — from a lot of voices.
"There are so many people involved now … should he practice? Should he play? How much should he practice?" Gruden said. "You’ve got doctors, you’ve got trainers, you’ve got the player’s agent, you’ve got his [personal] doctor maybe. Then you’ve got the owner, the coach, strength coach, the player himself ...
"You’ve got everybody involved. Everyone has an opinion. As a coach, it’s absolutely maddening."
Gruden says he thinks Zimmer and Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur have done a good job shuffling things, adjusting and playing this balancing act on a weekly basis. Don't forget, this also will be the first full game that the Vikings will be without running back Dalvin Cook — another significant blow to the offense — which could hurt Keenum's effectiveness, too, if he's the starter again.
"Your offense changes based on who that [starting QB] is," Gruden said. "You want to enhance what that guy does well. You want to try to cover up what maybe he doesn’t do well. So your offense changes gears and when your starter is back, obviously everything is different.
"With [Cook] out, it changes again. The only constant is change, and that's where coaches earn their pay. This is what they're up against."