Peterson fresh, ready for physical football

Adrian Peterson has been on the shelf all preseason and is ready for some physical football.

The Vikings have accomplished quite a bit during the preseason, finishing the exhibition schedule as one of only two teams that didn’t lose a game (along the with the New York Giants). What made the Vikings’ success so pronounced was that they did it without Adrian Peterson.

For the third straight season, Peterson spent the entire preseason on the sidelines, never taking a snap with the offense. While the Vikings have been installing a new offense, they have done so in game situations without their highest paid player.

That’s all going to change Sunday when the Vikings travel to St. Louis to open the 2014 season with Peterson at the center of the offense. Can he do anything to compare to his last meeting – a 2012 performance in which he ran for 212 yards and dominated the Rams for the final three quarters?

“You’ll have to wait and see,” Peterson said. “I’m excited. It’s been a long time coming for me – even more so not participating in the preseason. I’m ready to kick off the season. Everybody’s excited and ready for a good season to come.”

From the coaching side of things, it has made sense not to put Peterson at risk in meaningless games. It’s not as though he’s fighting for a roster spot. He made the team in April. The Vikings haven’t used him in the preseason in three years and the hiring of Norv Turner all but assured that the Vikings wouldn’t use him this season. In his last five seasons in San Diego, Turner never used future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson for one simple preseason reason – he didn’t have to.

Turner’s philosophy was that he would need L.T. in December and, hopefully, January. Burning him out in August made no sense when the games are meaningless, but the potential for injuries is real.

“I’ve been in the league for a long time,” Peterson said. “The preseason, there’s a lot that comes with that – wear and tear on your body and take chances as well. I’d rather not take any chances. If you do take chances, you take them in the regular season when it really counts. I’m sure this preseason there were starters – some key players – that went down. I know that has a lot to with it. On top of that, you get a chance to rest your body and get ready for a long season.”

For the first couple of years of his August hibernation, Peterson fought it. Former head coach Leslie Frazier used to joke (half-seriously) that the equipment guys had to hide Peterson’s helmet to make sure he didn’t cross them up and go out on the field. But, this time around, Peterson has been much more accepting of the decision and is cool with it.

“Yeah, I have (accepted it),” Peterson said. “The first couple of years was hard, but I’m a savvy vet now. I understand the big scheme – being smarter in different situations but still playing the game physical.”

A component of the decision not to play Peterson or let him absorb hits in games has also translated to practice. But, in practice, Peterson is allowed to wear his helmet and his instincts kicks in. While he doesn’t wear the non-contact red jersey during practice, the clear implication is there for defenders that he is untouchable … at least on their end.

But, that doesn’t go both ways. At times, his teammates can get a little salty with the lopsided no-hit policy because when he has the ball in his hand and defenders are closing in, Peterson takes the offensive and prefers to deliver a hit rather than absorb one. It can be a source of friction with some of his defensive teammates.

“They do (get mad),” Peterson said. “It’s kind a one-sided thing. A lot of defensive players come to me and complain about it because I do look for contact. I try to give a guy a shoulder or two from time to time. (Guys like) Harrison Smith, he’s not going to back down. It rubs him the wrong way sometimes and he voices it to me. It’s nothing he’s mad about, but it is what it is.”

With the leash coming off of Peterson Sunday, he’s ready to show the Rams what a fresh A.P. can do to an opponent. Ironically, it will come against a Gregg Williams defense. If that name is familiar to you, it should be. When Williams was in New Orleans, he made headlines by being suspended for a year for the Bountygate scandal that nearly crippled Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC Championship Game.

After serving his time, Williams is back and Peterson will likely be the focus of his bully tactics. Asked if he still holds a grudge over what Williams did to his teammates in the title game, he said it doesn’t bother him because he has basically dealt with such coaches most of his life and, after dealing with it for so long, his attitude is more that they should bring it on if that’s how it’s going to be. He can give as well as he gets and then some.

“I don’t carry that (grudge) at all,” Peterson said about potential lingering animosity. “I know guys took a couple of hits. I was more concerned about Favre that they were banging him around. But me? I love playing against a physical defense. I think that was the way old-school defenses played. That’s what I want to go up against every week. I love that style.”

If Williams wants to reinstitute his bounty system, Peterson may not be the guy to start that kind of mess with. It may end up being Rams defenders who feel the pain because Peterson is fresh and has been waiting for more than eight months to inflict his own brand of painful justice on defenders.

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.

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