The NFL season starts for Minnesota on Sept. 9, barely eight months after Adrian Peterson had reconstructive surgery on his ripped-up left knee.
Despite the medical advances that have made comebacks from anterior cruciate ligament quicker than ever, Peterson's return for the opener against the Jaguars was always on an optimistic timetable. But for the star Vikings running back, that hasn't really been a goal.
Belief is more like it.
"Despite what everyone else had to say, that was my vision," said Peterson, who also tore the medial collateral ligament when he was hit during a game last Dec. 24 at Washington. "I knew it was going to be a journey, a path, to get closer to that vision, and I'm closer. I see it. It's closer now. It was far away in the beginning, but I've been working hard and just moving forward.
"So hopefully here in a couple weeks — here in a couple weeks, not hopefully — that vision will be right there in front of me in my lap."
Peterson has cleared every hurdle in his rehabilitation either ahead of time or on schedule.
As nervous as the Vikings must be — and as skeptical as some observers around the league might be — he is probably as capable as anyone of taking the ball right at his tacklers without hesitation in Week 1.
"You don't really want to put parameters on his rehabilitation. You want to just let it go and see where it takes us," coach Leslie Frazier said. "Our medical staff talked all along about what this process would look like and what's necessary. We're in that process right now, so we still have to take it day by day."
Despite the evolution of the league into a passing-dominated game, Peterson is far too valuable for Minnesota (No. 29 in AP Pro32 rankings) to risk him getting hit the wrong way in some meaningless drill. He wore full pads in Tuesday's practice for the first time since his injury, but Frazier went out of his way to warn the defense not to touch him.
On Peterson's first carry, he realized this wasn't going to be a normal play.
"These guys are definitely not going to put their hands on me. I didn't really like that too much," he said.
The defensive players light-heartedly complained to their coach that Peterson is usually the one delivering the punishing hits.
"One of the things they told me was, ‘Coach, you know how he runs. What about protecting us?' Frazier said. "He's not going to change his running style, we all know that, but they have to be smart out there and they know that."
Peterson smiled when asked if he'd be letting up at all.
"Oh, I'm going to lower my shoulder," he said. "Those guys are probably going to get tired of touching off and tired of me putting my shoulder into them. They'll start firing back, which is pretty much what I want them to do."
His first contact will come later this month, maybe in practice next week or in the team's third preseason game Aug. 24 against San Diego. As offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave put it, Peterson "has to go through the mental gymnastics as well as the physical part."
So far, so good.
"We're all just amazed seeing him move and even cutting like he's always done," Frazier said, recalling a video review at the start of training camp of some offensive highlights from last season that included Peterson before he got hurt: "I came up to him and said, ‘Can you see yourself in your mind being able to do that again?' He said, ‘Coach, I can do that right now if you let me.' In his mind, there's nothing wrong."
Peterson never doubted his return for opener
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