Adrian Peterson (Morry Gash/AP)
As the Vikings prepare for the start of training camp on Friday, one of their focuses will be keeping key players fresh. The biggest star right now is Adrian Peterson, whose production will be counted on all season long, something that didn’t happen as effectively late last year.
The Vikings have raised the bar on expectations for the 2008 season, which gets underway when players report to Mankato Thursday night for the start of training camp. There are a number of goals, ranging from an improved pass rush to the maturation of Tarvaris Jackson as the team’s No. 1 quarterback.
But perhaps the biggest goal is to avoid Adrian Peterson hitting the wall again. While most fans may not agree that A.D. hit the rookie wall, the numbers tell a different story.
Head coach Brad Childress was rather emphatic during training camp last year that Chester Taylor had not lost his job as the Vikings’ starting running back, rather Taylor and Peterson were Nos. 1 and 1A on the depth chart. The intention was to work Peterson in slowly as part of a time share. That plan got scrapped in Week 1 against Atlanta when Taylor went down to an injury. In the first four games of the season, Taylor had just 11 carries, while Peterson rushed 19 times for 103 yards vs. the Falcons, 20 times for 68 yards vs. Detroit, 25 times for 102 yards vs. Kansas City and 12 times for 112 yards vs. the Packers.
Coming out of the bye week, the mandate changed. The Vikings realized what a find they had and the order came down to get A.D. more chances to help the Vikings win. The result was impressive, to say the least. Over the next four weeks, Peterson was on fire. He rushed 20 times for 224 yards against Chicago, 12 times for 63 yards vs. Dallas, 20 times for 70 yards vs. Philadelphia and 30 times for 296 yards to set a single-game NFL record vs. San Diego.
There appeared to be no end in sight. In the second quarter of the season, the disparity in carries was pronounced – Peterson rushed 82 times in that span, while Taylor rushed just 45 times. That was, until Peterson went down with a knee injury against the Packers in Week 10.
The Vikings maintain that the injury was not as serious as many initially feared and that Peterson would only miss a couple of weeks. They were right, as Peterson returned after missing just two games. During that time, Taylor more than held his own – rushing a whopping 53 times for 241 yards and four touchdowns. When Peterson returned in Week 11 vs. Detroit, it appeared as though all the talk was overrated. A.D. rushed 15 times for 118 yards and all seemed right with the Vikings’ world. That would change in the final four games of the season. Although allegedly healthy and good to go, Peterson wasn’t effective in the final month of the season. Consider the following:
Week 14 at San Francisco – Peterson rushed 14 times for just three yards, while Taylor ran eight times for 101 yards and one TD.
Week 15 vs. Chicago – Peterson ran 20 times for 78 yards – impressive numbers for most backs, but two yards under Peterson’s season average. Taylor ran five times for 31 yards.
Week 16 vs. Washington – Peterson rushed nine times for 27 yards in a game in which a victory guaranteed the Vikings a playoff spot. Taylor did little either, rushing six times for just 14 yards.
Week 17 at Denver – Peterson rushed 11 times for just 36 yards, while Taylor rushed 10 times for 83 yards.
In the final four games of the season, whether the result of effects from the knee injury or hitting the rookie wall, Peterson had 52 rushes for 144 yards – less than three yards a carry – while Taylor had 29 carries for 228 yards. It would seem clear that Peterson wasn’t the best running option late in the season.
If the Vikings are going to make a deep playoff run, Peterson is going to have to lead the way and the Vikings’ coaches know it. Whether that means limiting his work in the preseason and keeping his rushing attempts monitored during the season, so be it. In the first half of 2007, Peterson showed he can be a difference-maker and a game-breaker. In the final four games of the season, he looked worn down and worn out. Blame the knee injury if you want, but the Vikings will need A.D. to be running A.S. (All Season) if they want to make a run for the Super Bowl in 2008.