While Adrian Peterson fights to reclaim the title of top running back in the NFL, his teammates will be fighting for him to get there.
The return of Peterson after missing the final 15 games of 2014 has teammates believing the Minnesota Vikings offense can rebound from its 27th ranking in the NFL last year. The rushing offense was 14th while the passing offense was 28th, but many believe the return of Peterson and return to health of tight end Kyle Rudolph and several offensive linemen, as well as the addition of deep threat Mike Wallace, will be a boost for the passing game.
Wallace, however, wants it to work both ways, even though he agrees that Peterson will help the passing game.
“That guy, everybody has to respect him. We’ll see when they come down in the box what we can do,” Wallace said. “We’re going to have to hold our end of the bargain so we can make things easier on him as well. It’s not a one-way street. We’re going to try to do things to make things easier on Adrian as well.”
Without Peterson, and with three running backs making starts in 2014, the Vikings didn’t have a 1,000-yard rusher last year. In fact, they weren’t even close. Matt Asiata led the way with 570 yards rushing.
It’s been a far longer drought in the passing game. They haven’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since 2009 when Sidney Rice accomplished that with Brett Favre at quarterback.
But Wallace, who came to Minnesota in a trade from the Miami Dolphins, had studied receiver success under offensive coordinator Norv Turner and talked to players he knew that played for Turner, including former San Diego Chargers receiver Craig Davis.
After spending 10 organized team activity practices and three minicamp practices in Turner’s offense, it has laid out how Wallace expected.
“I kind of figured that the offense was like this and it’s pretty much been what I expected. I know a couple different guys that have played in Coach Norv’s offense so everything … What I saw was kind of what I knew already,” he said.
“(Turner’s former receivers) were telling me you’re going to have fun, it’s vertical, you’re going to be able to do a lot of different things.”
That’s good news for Wallace, who averaged 20 yards per catch in his first two seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers but saw that drop to under 13 yards per reception his two last years in Miami’s less vertical attack.
“I always feel like I have something to prove, Miami or no Miami, even more so coming from that. I think I had a pretty decent year last year,” he said. “It didn’t end the way I wanted it to, obviously, but we can always get better. I think this is a better place for me, more of an opportunity to do the things I’m good at.”
Wallace said he has been impressed with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, and Bridgewater has been pleased with Wallace’s effort in offseason practices.
“You bring in Mike Wallace, who’s a savvy veteran, also who’s a pretty exciting player to be on the playing field with at the same time,” Bridgewater said. “He brings some leadership to this team, to that wide receiver room. For me, it’s easy for me to apply some of my leadership skills to him, because we both have the same understanding, both have the same mindset and that entire wide receiver unit has the mindset, which is to win.”
Wallace also made a positive impression with head coach Mike Zimmer through two months of conditioning and practices.
“He’s got some fire and he comes up to me all of the time and says, ‘You can’t stop me today’ and stuff like that,” Zimmer said. “Hey, I like those guys that are competitors. He works extremely hard. I think he’s developing a good relationship with everybody on the football team and not just Teddy.”
Wallace has team goals ahead of individual ones, even if he admits that the big plays “slowed” for him the last two years. When asked what would satisfy him, he mentioned a 13-3 or 16-0 record.
His focus over the next month will be on running the routes he now knows he will be asked to run in Turner’s offense, with a visit planned to Miami to work with Bridgewater. He also plans on conditioning with Peterson in Houston (something Jerick McKinnon is already doing).
But the two of them can do more than work out together. They plan to help each other on the field, with Wallace’s ability to stretch the field helping Peterson, and then Peterson’s ability to command the attention of defenders near the line of scrimmage helping Wallace see more one-on-one matchups.
“He’s Adrian Peterson. He looked like the guy that we all know. I’m excited,” Wallace said. “I feel like a fan when I’m on the field with him. This is a legendary guy out here. This is a guy that’s going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he’s finished. He obviously makes the whole offense go.”
Wallace hoping to help Peterson, too
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