With injured running back Adrian Peterson running sprints Tuesday while the healthy Minnesota Vikings players went through some of the final touches to their game plan against the Dallas Cowboys, the star running back continued to impress with his rehab schedule.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has been hesitant to publicly give too many details on Peterson’s anticipated return from the injured reserve list and back into the Vikings’ lineup, but even Zimmer on Tuesday said Peterson is “probably ahead of schedule.”
Peterson has reportedly eyed a mid-December return, but those close to him believe he’s almost ready.
“I feel like he could play already. It’s A.D.,” running back Matt Asiata told Viking Update on Tuesday, referencing Peterson’s “All Day” nickname. “A.D. is always going to attack his rehab full throttle. He’s a different human being. That’s why he is who he is and we have much respect for him.”
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Peterson suffered a torn right meniscus on Sept. 18 and had surgery to repair the knee. He was placed on injured reserve on Sept. 23, but NFL teams can bring one player back off of injured reserve each season and the Vikings haven’t done that with any of the players on their extensive reserve list, leaving the opening for Peterson.
With him running sprints behind the end zone in the Vikings’ indoor practice facility on Tuesday, players’ hopes were raised that his return could happen soon.
“It’s very encouraging. When you have the best running back back in the game, it’s nothing but respect,” said Asiata, who is good friends with Peterson. “If he comes back this week, I’m up for it. I’m just going to have his back like I do with the other running backs.”
The Vikings could certainly use a boost to their running game. After starting the season 5-0, the Vikings have lost five of their last six games, but they aren’t out of playoff contention yet.
If Peterson would return in the next couple of weeks, he would once again be beating the timetable on his expected rehab, which he did with an anterior cruciate ligament tear in December 2011. Back then, he rehabilitated the injury extremely hard and played in the 2012 season opener, finishing that year only 8 yards short of the NFL’s single-season rushing record. Peterson finished the 2012 season with 2,097 yards rushing and a 6-yard average.
“He’s different, man. He’s different. I don’t know what he does different than everybody, but he’s definitely different. He’s a fast healer. He works hard and everybody knows that. It’s kind of proven,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said on Tuesday.
“I don’t know what’s going on with this guy, but he’s unbelievable. I’m just amazed at the things that he can do. Other people, with their injury, it might take them four to six months to come back. But this guy, he’s ready to roll. I think he’ll be back and he’s definitely going to help this team.”
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How much he would be able to help if he returns soon remains to be seen.
The Vikings are having a historically bad season rushing the ball, averaging just 2.8 yards per carry. In the 31 carries he had before the injury in September, Peterson averaged only 1.6 yards and didn’t have a run longer than 10 yards. But, to date, the Vikings have only three rushes longer than 15 yards and none longer than 30.
Asiata said the Vikings have to have all 11 players on offense doing their job for the running game to improve. The team is desperate to find some consistency there with an offensive line that has seen three starters end up on injured reserve.
Peterson could be motivated to return to improve his status with the Vikings and/or other teams looking for veteran running back in the offseason. Ending the season on injured reserve wouldn’t give the Vikings much confidence to move forward with his scheduled $18 million salary-cap hit in 2017.
“Sometimes he feels like he doesn’t want to do the rehab, but deep down inside he has to because he wants to get with the team,” said Asiata, who has been friends with Peterson, including a friendship with their wives, since Asiata arrived in Minnesota in 2012.
If Peterson returns, it could be a ray of hope for a slumping team that is especially struggling on offense.
Teammates seemed to be encouraged by Peterson’s speed on Tuesday (he wasn’t practicing, but his sprints appeared to be close to full speed).
“He looked good to me. I can’t speak for how he feels, but he looked good to me,” Munnerlyn said. “It’s always going to be a plus when you can get one of the best running backs in the league back, so hopefully he can come back. Hopefully we’re winning and he can help us get to our goal.”
Said Asiata: “If he willing to come back, everybody’s going to be excited.”