Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is back at practice, at least on a limited basis, after spending the first two weeks of training camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list.
The Vikings activated Peterson for Sunday morning's walkthrough, but he isn't eligible to start practicing in pads until Tuesday, according to terms of the collective bargaining agreement.
Head coach Leslie Frazier had a hard time containing his smile in seeing No. 28 taking handoffs, but was quick to point out that simply because Peterson is on the practice field doesn't mean he's 100 percent and ready to start taking snaps in games.
"It was good to see Adrian out there this morning in the walkthrough," Frazier said. "He's no longer on the PUP. It's good for him to be around his teammates. I want to caution you – I know there are a lot of fans that are optimistic and excited about seeing him back, but for us, it's just a part of the process. It doesn't mean a whole lot other than he's done a great job to this point off to the side."
After consulting with the team's medical and training staff, Frazier broke the news to A.P. this morning.
"I told him this morning that now is your chance to say, ‘Coach, I'm wrong. I don't think I'm ready,'" Frazier said with a smile. "He said, ‘I'm not saying that. I'm ready to get out there.' He's pretty excited."
There was no question that Peterson was itching to get on the practice field with his teammates rather than doing work on the side with head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman. From the first day of training camp, Peterson was pushing Frazier to get on the field. As camp enters its final few days, that lobbying effort proved successful.
"He would be a good politician," Frazier said. "He did a good job of lobbying, but it wasn't his lobbying that got him to this point. It's his work – the things that he's done up to this point in his rehab. You have to credit him with the hard work he's put in with our trainers and our strength coaches. He's done a good job to the point where they feel like this is the next step."
That "next step" will unfold over the next couple of days. For the next two days, Peterson can't wear pads as part of the collective bargaining agreement that prohibits players from coming off the PUP. list and being immediately thrown into live action. He can do walkthroughs and individual drills today and Monday, but won't be able to practice in team periods where there is contact until Tuesday. Frazier tempered some of the excitement by stating that the move to activate him was due to him completing all he could do working on his own.
"The next step for him in the process is to get integrated with his teammates," Frazier said. "He's done everything he can do on the side. Now it's the next step in the process. It doesn't mean in the future he's going to be lining up with our team in the opening game. We have a long time to determine that."
The amazing recovery of Peterson was something that has been debated since he was injured on Christmas Eve at Washington and had surgery to repair the damaged knee ligaments on New Year's Eve. In most cases, such major surgery sidelines a player for nine to 12 months at a minimum. However, the Vikings never had a doubt that Peterson would be as aggressive in his rehabilitation as he is when he has the football in his hands and attacks defenders.
"Maybe if it was someone else," Frazier said of the quick recovery time. "But with Adrian, he's unique. He's always been that way, in the time that I've known him in his career. He's special in so many ways. We all know the severity of the injury and what's required to come back. But, in his case, just to see the steps that were taken along the way – each hurdle that was put before him, he always met the challenge throughout this rehab."
The next hurdle is going to see how Peterson's knee reacts to live contact and getting hit by full-steam defenders trying to bring him down. However, Frazier was quick to point out that the first live hit Peterson takes will not come from a teammate.
"The first time he goes to the ground if I have anything to say about it will be in a game situation," Frazier said. "We're not going to take him to the ground in practice."
The conventional wisdom has been that, when Peterson was activated this week, he would almost surely sit out this Friday's game with Buffalo, but that he might be ready for the third game (Aug. 24 vs. San Diego). Frazier was asked if the third game was the target date since teams typically sit their starters for the final preseason game, but he didn't rule out of the possibility of putting the starting unit on the field Aug. 30 at Houston to give him the preseason test the coaching staff would like to see.
"This is a unique situation," Frazier said. "There's no article of war that says we can't play our starters in the fourth game. That's our decision."
While the seven-and-a-half-month timeframe from surgery to his return to the field is viewed as almost superhuman, Frazier said the team never looked at target dates. It was a matter of going through the progressions – putting a hurdle in front of Peterson and, when he achieved the goal sought, moving on to the next one.
Peterson started running on dry land at the end of March and showed off his rehabilitative progress in front of the media in May when he shuffled briskly back and forth, sprinted around a hula hoop, ran wind sprints and did plyometric work, jumping repeatedly on top of a stack of boxes about 3½ feet high. Later that month, he began to cut to simulate football movements, but the knee still hasn't taken on contact like it will once he participates in games.
"I've never put a timetable on it in my mind," Frazier said. "You just try to adhere to what the doctors and our trainers were telling us along the way. I never put in my mind that we would shoot for August-whenever or September-whenever. I never put a number on it, just because of who he is. This doesn't mean anything other than this is the next step in his rehab."
Frazier knows the pain associated with rehabilitating an injured knee. At the prime of his career, he suffered a knee injury in the Bears' Super Bowl win following the 1985 season that ended his playing days – but not without 18 months of trying to get his knee back into pre-injury form. He pointed out that New England wide receiver Wes Welker made a similarly speedy recovery and proved it can be done. But Frazier remains in awe of what Peterson has been able to accomplish off the field – which is just as amazing as what he has done on the field.
"Adrian is so unique," Frazier said. "All the things I've heard throughout his rehab and witnessed – we've all seen some of the things he's done in his rehab – you just shake your head. The fact that he's where he is right now is just a testament to great genetics and his intestinal fortitude. He's unique."
Peterson is scheduled to address the local media following this afternoon's practice and Viking Update will pass along what he has to say about impressive recovery and his plans for getting back on the field.
Despite missing three games with an ankle injury and the season finale with his knee injury, Peterson rushed for 970 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2011.
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Peterson returns to Vikings practice
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