Peterson's next step: When will contact come?

Adrian Peterson (Brad Rempel/US Presswire)

The Vikings have been cautious and methodical in returning Adrian Peterson to action, but the final hurdle is exposing him to contact in practice.

The decision to not expose Adrian Peterson to any hits during the final two preseason games didn't come as a big surprise to those familiar with the Vikings and Peterson's rehab. But it does beg the question: When will they open A.P. to hits in practice now that he's been ruled out of the preseason?

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said a target date hasn't been set for Peterson's first contract in practice, but he made it clear he would have to endure practice contact before being put in a game.

One of the biggest problems players face when they're returning from injuries is that everyone else in the league is doing live hitting. Say what you want about the usefulness of training camp, but one thing camp and the preseason accomplishes is toughening up bodies for the collisions they will undoubtedly absorb during the season.

The process of getting back into football shape is a gradual one. Hitting is no longer allowed in The Opening days of training camp and the time that frontline players see action is increased incrementally during the first three preseason games to get them ready for a full 60-minute workload during the season.

When a player is injured or holds out, he misses out on that hardening process. When he returns to action, the amount and ferocity of hitting has been ramped up for all of those who have been through the process since the outset. While most players view the preseason as a necessary grind to get to the regular season when the games count, missing out on that time can leave players behind in that process and, in many instances, players that sat out the preseason are often subject to further injury upon their return because their bodies haven't taken that incremental increased pounding that goes on in camp and the preseason.

There is a different set of rules for stars, but Peterson has almost refused to admit that his body wasn't ready for contact from the start of training camp.

"I want a lot of (contact). I want a lot of it," he said Tuesday. "It'll be good for me, you know, so I'm just excited to see how I feel when I get hit or to run over somebody just to get back physical. I'm a physical running back so I want to get that contact."

He's been shut down for the preseason for a reason. The Vikings want to err on the side of caution to prevent any aggravation of his surgically repaired left knee and not subject him to potential injury.

The decision to sit Peterson down is probably the wise move. Why risk another injury in games that, in the big picture of things, are meaningless to veteran players who have already assured themselves of a roster spot? It's important to get timing down between units of the offense, defense and special teams, which is why the games this weekend will include starters playing the entire first half and some playing a series or two in the second half as well. However, with Peterson returning from a significant surgical procedure, there isn't the same sense of urgency to get him out on the field.

Since the day Peterson went down with his knee injury Dec. 24, 2011, there has been an optimistic target date of Sept. 9 for his return. By that time, the defensive players for the Jacksonville Jaguars will have had more than a month of training, conditioning and teaching their bodies to deal with the kind of high-speed collisions that take place every Sunday.

Peterson hasn't had any of those yet and likely won't until the Vikings open the regular season against Jacksonville. He may end up being the exception to the rule, but, if the Vikings keep to their plan that has been hammered home by Leslie Frazier throughout the offseason, don't expect to see Peterson come back and immediately be the 20- to 25-carry-a-game back that he has been the first five years of his career. He is 90 percent back from the injury, but it will be the final 10 percent that will be the most telling.

"I'm just going to do my part and that's to keep on working and making sure I'm back," Peterson said.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.


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