Sunday slant: All eyes on Peterson, for good

Adrian Peterson will be back in the spotlight, but now the speculation focuses on the field, not off it. Ahhh, breathe it in as football is returning, along with all the projections.

For much of the offseason, at least until Adrian Peterson showed up at Winter Park, the majority of the discussion centered around the star running back and his availability.

Ultimately, the Minnesota Vikings stood strong and united in their stance that he would play for them only and he is. But, now, the question is how effective he will be.

From predictions that he will be “stale” by some in the fantasy football world – Vikings fans can only hope he saw that analysis – to others wondering if he will either be fresh and motivated to the questions about his age, opinions are prevalent. But, as Denny Green noted, opinions are like a part of the back-end anatomy – everyone has one. Like that part of the anatomy, some of them stink.

Still, as the Vikings gear up for the start of training camp with their annual check-in Saturday in Mankato, Peterson could be the catalyst that sends the offense into an all-cylinders engine. Last year, Teddy Bridgewater emerged but didn’t have Peterson, didn’t have a consistent offensive line, didn’t have a legitimate deep threat and didn’t have safety-valve tight end (not the anatomical kind) in Kyle Rudolph.

So how will Peterson do in what should be his first full season in Norv Turner’s offense? Pro Bowl running back Jerome Bettis believes Peterson is the only back in Bettis’ lifetime that will have a shot at breaking the career rushing record by Emmitt Smith that was amassed largely under Turner’s watch in Dallas.

“I think when you look at the longevity of running backs, Adrian Peterson probably in my lifetime is the only that will have this opportunity,” Bettis told the Sporting News. “But the one thing you have to understand is that the NFL is cyclical, so teams kind of watch and see what the championship teams are doing, and they gear themselves up toward those championship teams.

“So yes, there’s been an emphasis in the last five to seven years on passing the football. But as teams go, if they don’t see the success, they tend to go toward what is winning. Right now you have an age of great quarterbacks, but as these quarterbacks start retiring and as you’re not able to replenish the league with the same type of quarterbacks, then you’re gonna see the running game become a more prominent part of the game.”

The advantage Peterson has this year is an offense that is more well-rounded than any the Vikings have had in several years, probably since Brett Favre had a career year with the Vikings in 2009. Back then, Peterson had 1,383 yards rushing, which is about average for four of his eight years in the league. Obviously last year was an outlier on the low end, just as 2012 was on the high end.

But Peterson shouldn’t need to rush for 2,000 yards in a balanced offense. In 2012, that was almost a necessity as Christian Ponder struggled. This year should be more like 2009 in that the Vikings have a competent quarterback with plenty of surrounding weapons and perhaps a more competent coordinator and overall coaching staff.

But the projections are all over the board for Peterson this year. It seems a little ridiculous to think he will be “stale.” Descriptors like “determined” and “motivated” sound more accurate. listed Peterson as its top preseason candidate for comeback player of the year, chattering: “History is instructive. Michael Vick and Ben Roethlisberger were given second chances, their alleged transgressions forgiven once they returned to the gridiron for an extended period of time. The same will likely hold true for Peterson, who is gearing up for another run at Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record.”

That might be overstating the case, and Fantasy has Peterson projected for 1,282 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. That would only be average and, in Peterson’s mind at least, would be a disappointment. They also have Peterson crystal balled for 45 catches, which would be a career high but seems realistic given Norv Turner’s love for throwing the ball to his running backs.

There will be plenty of opinions on Peterson next week as training camp commences, but this time it’s all about his return to the football field instead of legal issues or uncertainty about his future in purple. Now it’s just about whether Peterson returns to form and whether he will have a legitimate shot to eventually break Emmitt Smith’s record.

“I don’t believe that (Smith’s) record is unbreakable, but I think right now the only person in the NFL that even has a chance is Adrian Peterson, with his gift,” Bettis said. “Him losing a year last year really hurts his chances, but if anybody, he still has a great chance if he keeps himself conditioned very, very well.”

That part isn’t even a question. Everything else is and proving time isn’t far away.

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