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QB Bradford back at practice, but Jon Gruden doesn't see him playing against Bears

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford, seen here Aug. 10, practiced Thursday and coach Mike Zimmer said he will play Monday night if he's ready. Kevin Hoffman / USA TODAY Sports

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.—Don't expect to see quarterback Sam Bradford in promos for the Minnesota Vikings' game at Chicago on ESPN's Monday Night Football.

Bradford, who has missed the past three games with a knee injury, returned to practice Thursday on a limited basis, his first workout in two weeks. But ESPN analyst Jon Gruden doesn't believe Bradford will take the field against the Bears.

"I'm not planning on it,'' Gruden said in a phone interview. "I think the chances are we'll see (backup Case) Keenum. That's what I'm expecting. ... I'm preparing for Keenum and we're hoping that Sam Bradford gets back on the field sooner rather than later. ... I tend to believe he's probably a week away.''

Bradford practiced for the first time since Sept. 21. He hurt his left knee Sept. 11 against New Orleans on Monday Night Football, but didn't come out of the game. In six practices since then, he has been limited in each.

Speaking before practice, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wouldn't rule out that Bradford could play against the Bears.

"If he's ready to play, he'll play,'' Zimmer said.

Zimmer said Bradford has been dealing with pain management but is "hoping it's not throughout the season'' that will be the case

When it comes to Monday, Gruden, a former NFL coach who won Super Bowl XXXVII with Tampa Bay in January 2003, believes the Vikings will err on the side of caution.

"I'm sure they're going to make sure Sam is 100 percent ready to go,'' Gruden said. "They don't want to risk that knee. They know what they're doing. They'd had the appropriate people advise them.

"You want to make sure that he has a chance to run around and test the knee and get back in a groove with his receivers. I don't know how much he practiced (Thursday) or how little he practiced. Just because he did practice doesn't mean anything to me. I'm curious to see how much he practiced with the starters.''

The practice was closed to the media, and Zimmer was unavailable afterward. Several players did discuss Bradford following the workout.

"He looked great,'' said wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. "Sam always looks great.''

Asked if Bradford looked better than in practices two weeks ago, wide receiver Adam Thielen said, "Shoot, honestly I can't tell when I'm running routes.''

After being hurt, Bradford was a limited participant in five Vikings practices over two weeks. He went to Florida on Sept. 22 to get a second opinion on his left knee from Dr. James Andrews, who performed surgeries on that knee in 2013 and 2014 for torn ACL injuries. Thursday marked the first practice for Bradford since the visit to Andrews.

Keenum has started the past three games, and the Vikings have gone 1-2. He is preparing as if he again will get the call.

"That's my mindset is I'm going to start,'' Keenum said. "Whether I am or not, that's how I prepare, so that doesn't change whatever week it is, whoever we're playing and whenever we're playing.''

Coach John Fox said the Bears are preparing for both Bradford and Keenum, which makes it a bit more difficult.

"I think there's a little bit of skill-set difference, but both have shown that they're very, very capable and we'll have to adjust once we figure out who it is,'' Fox said.

The Vikings will play a fourth straight game in which they don't know until late the previous week the starter at quarterback. Bradford was ruled out hours before a Sept. 17 loss at Pittsburgh, two days before a Sept. 24 win over Tampa Bay and three days before last Sunday's loss to Detroit.

"It can be (a distraction) if you let it be,'' said Vikings guard Joe Berger. "But at the end of the day, it's the NFL. We're professional. People get hurt every week, people get shuffled in and out. It's something that you just got to work with. I think it's only a distraction if you let it be a distraction.''

The St. Paul Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service

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