As Adrian Peterson walked through the locker room at Winter Park Wednesday afternoon, it was hard not to notice the football he had cradled in his right arm. He went to his locker, held the ball out momentarily as he put down a playbook and immediately pulled the ball back into position in the crook of his elbow.
Peterson's recent penchant for fumbling has been troubling to him, his teammates and his coaches. Never known as being a fumbler, Peterson led all running backs in the league in fumbles in 2008. As a result, he gave himself some self-imposed punishment, tucking the football tightly to his chest as he went about his usual business.
"I picked it up in the meeting room this morning and I've been carrying it around with me since then," Peterson said of the ball.
As the Vikings prepare for the Jim Johnson-led defense that brings both run and pass blitzes at an incredible clip – estimated at 70 to 80 percent by most of the players asked – Peterson knows there will be a lot of bodies flying around him and going after the ball. He said the key will be not to get frustrated by plays that gain minimal yardage, because defenses that take a lot of chances like the Eagles do can be burned by the big play, and no runner in the league is as lethal at that component of his game as Peterson.
"The key is going to be for me to be patient," Peterson said. "You know it's going to be a tough game. There are going to be two (yards), here, three there, five here. Eventually, you can hit a home run on these guys, but they're strong on their front four and linebackers. It's going to be a tough game."
The Eagles have been one of the best in the NFL over years at forcing fumbles. Any time a runner is in the grasp of one defender, the next coming in invariably rakes at the ball to get a strip. Peterson is aware that once a runner gets a reputation as being a fumbler, opponents see him as a marked man. He has been dealing with that for the last month, but said defenders that get too obsessed with getting a strip may find themselves on their backs with Peterson still running. He knows he is a target with a growing reputation at coughing the ball up, so the Eagles won't be doing anything he hasn't seen over the last several games.
"It's been pretty much the same the last few weeks," Peterson said. "Guys have been coming in trying to tackle the ball – making that a point instead of tackling me. I've just got to do my job and keep the ball high and tight."
That attention is what is fueling Peterson this week. He knows the Eagles will be trying to get a turnover and will be bringing blitzes from all directions to stop him. But, the right play call at the right time can make a defense like Philadelphia's susceptible to giving up the back-breaking run that can change the complexion of a game in an instant.
"You live by the sword and you die by the sword," Peterson said. "It might come back to hurt them. I have to worry about protecting the ball, but not as far as worrying about guys stripping the ball or anything. I just have to play my game."
If Peterson needed any more motivation, he's getting it from a familiar source – his father Nelson Peterson. His dad coached him from his first days of pee wee league football and has been one of his strongest supporters, but most vocal critics as well. During the course of the last two years, the elder Peterson has kept in steady contact with head coach Brad Childress via phone and text messages, pointing out things that he needs to remind Adrian to do.
It came as no surprise that his father had some wisdom to impart. In the Peterson house, fumbling wasn't acceptable when A.D. was simply A.M. (All Morning) because he had an afternoon nap. Clearly it isn't acceptable at this level. Peterson said he doesn't need to be reminded by Childress or any of the assistant coaches about his fumbling woes. Dad has already taken care of it.
"He's pretty vocal about that," Peterson said. "He's been like that since I was little. Any time I put the ball on the turf, I've heard it from him. He told me, ‘You've been doing this for a long time. Make sure you keep the ball high and tight and you should be alright."
Positing the ball high and against his pads may be something new for A.D., but it was pretty clear Wednesday, that he's taking it seriously and getting all the extra time he can making sure he keeps a grip on the ball – even if it's just walking around Winter Park.
Peterson practicing ‘All Day'
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