With the Vikings being a hot commodity around the NFL as they’re off to a 5-2 start to the 2015 season, they’re starting to get a lot more eyeballs on them and the attention they’re garnering is starting to increase.
One such instance occurred Tuesday when Adrian Peterson appeared on NFL Network’s “NFL Total Access” program and was interviewed by network analyst and former Viking Nate Burleson.
The topics ran from the Vikings flying under the national radar – A.P. prefers that it continues – to his assessment of the Vikings as a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
Burleson, never a teammate of Peterson but a past member of the Vikings, felt free to ask Peterson questions based upon shared experience.
Asked if he felt any pressure to be the face of the offense in a morphing team, Peterson said the Vikings are a unit, not a collection of parts. He does his part, but so do several others.
“I think as a player, I play this game, I want to be great, I want to be the best to ever play,” Peterson said. “I think that’s the pressure that I apply to myself to go out there and I want to be that guy that scores the winning touchdown or keeps the drive going. I still have that mentality, but I’m able to sit back and see guys like (Stefon) Diggs and Kyle Rudolph and (Jarius) Wright. These guys make plays and I sit back and just smile and it’s fun. It relieves some of the pressure even though I still have it inside when I’m out there. I just have to contain it and make sure that I’m taking advantage of opportunities and I’m not getting ahead of myself.”
One of the significant aspects of Peterson’s role definition is the presence of Teddy Bridgewater. With the exception of 2009 when some gunslinger from Mississippi decided to stick it to his previous employer – it was an ugly split – Peterson has seen a revolving door of starting quarterbacks.
The best available intel says that revolving door stops with Bridgewater and Peterson has witnessed the improvement in his second year, their first together.
“You can tell he understands the game more – just having last year to develop and see a lot of different defenses and to be able to go through those progressions and read the defense,” Peterson said. “It’s important, especially for the quarterback. He’s a young guy. He’s smart. He’s hungry to learn and to gain knowledge from coach (Norv) Turner and he’s poised. He’s never rattled and that’s what I love about him. He’s been doing a great job so far this year for us.”
Prior to Peterson joining the NFL in 2007, LaDainian Tomlinson was viewed as the top of the heap among NFL running backs – rightly so. Peterson used their first head-to-head meeting to serve as the proclamation that there had been a changing of the guard.
On that day, Peterson set a single-game rushing record that still stands.
Since that day, there have been numerous usurpers to his throne. The phrase “the next Adrian Peterson” has been thrown out plenty. Yet, there’s A.P. at the top of the hill.
St. Louis Rams running back Todd Gurley is making a run to be the first legitimate contender to Peterson’s current position as an aging Hall of Famer who hasn’t started his inevitable descent. He knows the young lion is coming and it may be the Gurley Man who finally gets the job done.
“He’s aggressive, he plays physical, he has great feet and great vision too,” Peterson said of Gurley. “I love what this young guy is doing. I’m wishing him well, but not this week against us. He’s a talented young guy. He’s hungry. He came off the ACL injury and I know how that is. I know the mindset that it takes, the mental focus it takes and the work ethic to come back from that. To be able to come out and have the type of season that he’s having, I take my hat off to him.”
Peterson knows the clock is ticking and, like a gladiator facing the challenge of a younger challenger, there is every reason for Peterson to feel like Tomlinson did when he left the Metrodome floor knowing that, as unwilling as it may have been, he was passing a torch that has remained in Peterson’s vice-like grip ever since.
Yet, he isn’t ready to give up his spot atop the ranks of NFL running backs. He’s feeling good, as good as anyone can feel coming off a game in which three body parts were listed in the injury report.
Gurley may be the future.
Peterson clearly has been the past.
He believes he is present and is ready to show Gurley firsthand who the big dog on the block is because, dinged up or not, Peterson is good to go Sunday.
“Physically, I feel good,” Peterson said. “I feel amazing coming in today. Last week, it would have been a totally different story, but that’s the grunt of an NFL season. You kind of have those games like that. But physically I feel good. I’m blessed. Mentally, my mind is at a great place, too. We have a lot of young talent offensively, and even though I have the mentality to want to be that guy that does everything that wins a game every time, we have so many players that are able to make plays. That helps me kind of relax and really just go out there and take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to me to execute to help our team be successful.”
How he feels about 3 o’clock Sunday afternoon will be the rest of the story in regard to the latest challenge to his throne.