The wait between rushes for Adrian Peterson will reach 372 days when the Minnesota Vikings start their season at San Francisco.
For a player whose aggressive style with the ball was already labeled as angry, well, that first carry could really cause him to combust.
“Three or four seconds before the snap when I’m going to get the carry, I’m going to tell myself, ‘OK, just be patient.’ Because I know how I can be, and I know that if I hit that thing full speed, I don’t think it’s going to work out as well because you have to give those guys up front time to work,” said Peterson, whose return from NFL exile will formally end on Monday night when he faces the 49ers.
He added: “Especially in my case, anticipating that first run.”
Peterson gained a ho-hum 75 yards on 21 rushes in Minnesota’s opener last year, and little did anyone realize that would stand as his total for 2014. Placed on paid leave while the child abuse case against him went through the court system, then suspended by the league under the personal conduct policy, Peterson went nearly nine months between activities of any kind with the team.
Still one of the franchise’s most invaluable assets at age 30, Peterson was held out of all five preseason games, a precautionary practice the Vikings have followed since 2011. So the buildup to that first carry could have hardly been bigger.
“Oh, man, you can just feel his presence from the moment he walks into this facility that he’s ready to play,” quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. “He’s had an entire year off, and we’re excited for him. We can’t wait to watch him running wild on Monday.”
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, chomping on chewing gum while relaxing on a couch in a room inside the team facility, Peterson casually yet confidently predicted a big year.
He invoked the Brett Favre-led 2009 squad that missed a Super Bowl trip by a field goal, during a 386-word acclaim of this season’s Vikings that lasted almost three minutes.
“I feel like we have what it takes to make that run, man, and bring a championship back here,” Peterson said.
His goals of 2,500 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving are almost laughably unattainable for even the elite, but that’s the kind of ambition that fuels his on-field success.
Emmitt Smith’s career rushing record is 8,165 yards away, but Peterson hasn’t dropped that from his radar, either. He said he believes he could play until he’s 37, which would give him more of a chance if a team were still interested in signing him then.
“I had the year off, which hurts, but then again I know I can play this game for a long time, an extended time, if I choose to,” Peterson said. “So that opportunity to accomplish that feat is still possible for me.”
Peterson was recovering from surgeries (knee, hernia and groin) in each of the last three offseasons, but not this time.
“I didn’t have to get into the cold tub until like two weeks’ worth of practice, so that was a good sign as far as my body was feeling,” Peterson said. “It’s definitely a noticeable difference, especially just the mindset coming in. Any time you get a year off of playing running back in the National Football League, your body’s going to be a lot better and rejuvenated.”
Fresh is always best in this game, but with the long layoff at his age there’s also no guarantee that Peterson will be able to pick right up where he left off as the league’s premier running back.
There has to be some rust, right?
“I’ve been playing football for so long, and I don’t know if everyone could do this, but I feel like just the level that I’ve played at and the work I’ve put in not only during the offseason, I don’t think a year off will slow me down at all or really affect me that much,” Peterson said.
The circumstance of his career restart is unique, hardly comparable those who’ve sat out the majority of a season mid-career. But plenty of other stars have regained their stride quickly upon return, so there’s no reason he can’t.
Jamaal Charles rushed for 1,509 yards in 2012, after a knee injury knocked him out the year before. Peyton Manning attempted zero passes in 2011 while dealing with a serious neck problem and threw for 37 touchdowns the following season. Jerry Rice had 1,157 yards and nine touchdowns receiving in 1998 at age 36, after hurting his knee the year before.
“A guy that defeated the odds and was better than he was in his prime,” Peterson said. “That’s how I want to be remembered.”