When Peterson suffered a high ankle sprain against Oakland last year, the Vikings were going nowhere. Their season was already in the tank and they were well on their way to a franchise-worst 3-13 record. Yet, with just two games remaining at a time when the Vikings were 2-12, Peterson pushed his way back into the lineup, only to suffer a torn ACL and MCL that has changed his professional life in a significant way.
Peterson was trying to be a leader by showing it on the field – letting his actions speak for themselves. A lot of players would have likely convinced themselves to sit out the final two games in order to heal up and come back strong the following season. That's not how Peterson is wound. It isn't in his DNA. The results were catastrophic but in keeping with how A.P. plays the game.
He has addressed his rehabilitation with the same intensity he hits a hole and fights for extra yardage. He has looked extremely strong in the rehab efforts have been able to be viewed by the media and he maintains that he will be ready Sept. 9 when the Vikings open the regular season. The question Leslie Frazier, the coaching staff and the medical staff will have to answer is whether the Vikings will be able to stop Peterson from playing if he's convinced he can and whether they can convince him (early on anyway) to play in a time-split with Toby Gerhart.
The good news for the Vikings is that they open the season with two of the easier opponents on their 2012 schedule – Jacksonville and Indianapolis. The Colts were the worst team in the NFL last year and the Jaguars had the worst offense. Both are looking to rebuild their programs just like the Vikings, so their proximity at the start of the 2012 schedule may be critical to the Vikings getting off to a fast start and potentially not rushing Peterson back into the lineup.
Speaking with the media last week, Peterson and head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman stated A.P. is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation and aggressively taking on his return to the field. Peterson wouldn't speculate if he would be willing to play if he wasn't at 100 percent, but underestimating Peterson's desire would be a big mistake. He suffered his knee injury in a game that the national media termed "meaningless," but Peterson viewed as being a must-play game for him.
The bottom line with Peterson seems pretty clear cut – if he feels he is good to go (or even if he has some lingering doubts), when the starting lineup for the home opener is announced to the Metrodome crowd, expect to hear his name boom through the P.A. system. If the best defenders in the league can't stop A.P., how will the medical staff?
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.