As he announced Adrian Peterson’s removal from the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier spent more time saying what it doesn’t mean than what it does mean.
“I want to caution you,” Frazier said last week. “I know there are a lot of fans who are very optimistic and excited about seeing him back. But for us, it’s just part of the process. It doesn’t mean a whole lot other than he’s done a great job in his rehab up to this point off to the side with our strength coaches, (head athletic trainer) Eric Sugarman and his staff and our medical staff.”
Peterson was taken off PUP on Aug. 12, just 71/2 months after having surgery to repair the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee. Per rules of the collective bargaining agreement, he didn’t wear full pads until Aug. 14. But even in full pads, Peterson’s first week of practice went without contact.
Defenders were warned the night before that Peterson would be off-limits in practice. Before Peterson’s first carry in 11-on-11 team drills, Frazier went into the defensive huddle with a reminder.
“The rules are simple,” safety Jamarca Sanford said when asked what Frazier had told the defense. “Do not touch No. 28. If you touch him, you’re cut.”
What ensued over the next two days of practice was reminiscent of what fathers do with their children. Peterson would get the handoff and defenders would part before him, holding up their hands to make sure he had plenty of room to make the long run.
For the record, Peterson wanted no part of the special treatment. In fact, Peterson, one of the league’s most physical players, vowed to make the defense hit him soon if the no-touch rule stays in effect.
“I’m going to lower my shoulder,” he said. “Those guys (on defense) are probably going to get tired of touching off (on me) and get tired of me putting my shoulder into them. They’ll start firing back, and that’s pretty much what I want them to do.”
Peterson’s goal has been the same since he went down with that gruesome injury at Washington on Christmas Eve: Return in time for the 2012 regular-season opener.
The Sept. 9 opener against the Jaguars is fast approaching and Peterson has no doubts that he’ll play. Frazier doesn’t doubt it either. But he’s certainly a lot more cautious about it.
“(Coming off PUP) doesn’t mean in the future that he’s going to be lining up with our team in the opening game,” Frazier said. “We don’t know that. We have a long time to determine that.”
Frazier also has the comfort of having Toby Gerhart as Peterson’s backup. Although Gerhart is no Peterson, he is a former second-round draft pick who has gotten bigger and stronger entering his third season. Gerhart has been a pile-mover in training camp and the preseason.
If the Vikings do determine that they want Peterson to play in the regular-season opener, they want to get him at least a carry or two in the preseason. Since many starters are expected to get the fourth preseason game off, that means Peterson would likely suit up for the third preseason game this week.
There are many who believe Peterson and the Vikings are moving too fast. One of them is Jerry Rice, the Hall of Fame receiver and possibly the best NFL player of all-time. Even that doesn’t deter Peterson’s resolve to play now.
“Yeah, I heard about his comments,” Peterson said of Rice. “But everyone is different. And everyone is entitled to their opinion. It is what it is. It’s just another opinion. Great player. I respect him. But that’s just another opinion.”
Peterson continues to say he’ll “go with the flow” when it comes to letting the Vikings decide his timetable for returning to live action. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t lobbying hard for a speedy return.
“I had my mind set on what I wanted to conquer,” Peterson said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It was going to take work. I had my faith in the right place, my will in the right place. I’m back.”