Adrian Peterson might be one of the most physical running backs in the game, but he's decided that he needs to get it right mentally when it comes to fumbling.
The last time Vikings beat reporters had a chance to speak with Peterson was after the NFC Championship Game in New Orleans. He left the locker room following that game and watched the Saints celebrate on the field to take in the atmosphere and use it as motivation.
The Vikings might have been the team celebrating if they hadn't turned the ball over five times. Peterson was credited with two fumbles, although he didn't lose either of those, and could have been credited with another fumble that occurred during a handoff exchange with Brett Favre.
During the regular season, Peterson fumbled the ball seven times, losing six. His offseason included reflecting on what it would take to cure that ill.
"What I came up with is it's all mental. Basically it's that simple," Peterson said. "Mentally being aware at all times of my surroundings, knowing where the guys are. But they're definitely throwing those extra punches to knock it out at all times. Mentally knowing that I have it high and tight at all times."
Vikings coach Brad Childress has said repeatedly that he doesn't want to change Peterson's aggressive running style or break his spirit.
"Adrian Peterson is a tremendous football player. I know we picked like we do during the draft about weaknesses, but by anybody's measure in this league and in history, he's had three exceptional years," Childress said. "There's a reason you look at a highlight film and so much of it is Adrian Peterson, because he's a hell of a talent. But he's no different than any ‘hell of a talent,' because there's always things that guys can work on. I think we focus that lens so hard on that one issue. That guy is a hell of a football player and I'm glad he's playing on the Minnesota Vikings."
Childress said he doesn't lack confidence in giving the ball to Peterson in crucial situations, and Peterson, in turn, said he believes he has the confidence of his coaching staff.
But the Pro Bowl running back has learned a lesson over the last couple of years: Now that he's been targeted as a fumbler, defenders are going to continue targeting his weakness.
"They're always trying to find a way to slow you down. But you learn from your mistakes, you correct those things and keep on improving on your whole game, your entire game as a whole. That's my plan," he said.
"When I was holding it low, it was giving those guys the space to be able to punch up and knock the ball out at times. Bringing it up high, keeping it high and tight (is the right way). Bringing it back up to the way it's taught and the way you're supposed to carry the ball, it's pretty simple."
But it hasn't been simple enough that it has been cured just yet. In his first three seasons in the league, Peterson has fumbled 20 times and lost 13 of them. His seven fumbles and six lost last year were the most of any non-quarterback, but it still wasn't the most of his career. In 2008, he fumbled nine times, but he only lost four of those.
Peterson hasn't been available to Minnesota reporters since the end of the season to discuss the issue so it has manifested itself thoughout the offseason. Peterson tried his best to ignore it.
"Actually, this offseason I got away, tried to stay away from NFL Network and ESPN because the season (is) hectic," he said. "It doesn't bother me at all because I'm the only one that can do something about it – Adrian Peterson.
"In my mind, it was all mental and it's just something that I've got to be more aware of when I'm out there. That doesn't bother me at all. People are going to say what they want to say and voice their opinions my whole career. If I'm thinking about all the negative things, then I can't move forward. So I'm focused on the positive things and putting ourselves back in that position to win a Super Bowl."
The Vikings made a point to study Peterson's fumbles during the offseason, a project spearheaded by running backs coach/assistant head coach Eric Bieniemy.
Peterson didn't put the ball on the ground during Friday's opening practice of training camp, but the team also wasn't in full pads and dishing out full contact. The pads go on Saturday morning for the first time since New Orleans.
"We can't really play with pads until we get out here (Saturday) morning," Childress said. "Those are points of emphasis. Eric Bieniemy tore that issue apart forward and backward. He looked at carries and if it was for extra carries. I don't want to change the way he runs with the football. You can't play that position and be cautious. He is a violent, reckless running back. In football sometimes the ball comes loose. Do I like it? No. Am I going to tolerate it? No. We are going to emphasize it and usually you achieve what you emphasize."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Peterson, Childress address fumbling issues
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