It’s become something of the classic “good news, bad news” story. Early indications from the opening of training camp are that, despite the demands on his time in the offseason, Adrian Peterson is even more impressive than he was when he arrived in Mankato a year ago. That’s good news for the Vikings and bad news for everyone else.
Last year as a rookie, Peterson was borderline shy when it came to his new teammates. He was unassuming and his goal at that time was just to fit in. A year later, he is supremely confident – without being cocky – and is sounding more like a team leader than a guy just trying to blend in with his new surroundings.
When asked how he planned to follow up a rookie season in which he won Rookie of the Year, set a league record for rushing yards in a game and was named MVP at the Pro Bowl with a dominating performance, Peterson didn’t speak in terms of individual goals. He spoke of using training camp to toughen both the offense and defense and make each other better by giving their best – even in what many non-football types believe are meaningless practice sessions.
“At this point, the goal is to be focused and compete against one another,” Peterson said. “We just want to make each other better each day and take our progression one day at a time. Once the season rolls around, we need to take it one week at a time and keep our ultimate goals in mind of trying to win a Super Bowl.”
The dominance Peterson displayed in his rookie season made him the talk of the NFL, with some national analysts posing the question of whether he is already the game’s best running back. If the OTAs, minicamps and the start of training camp are any indication, there will be more people jumping on the A.D. bandwagon every day. He’s already making believers among his teammates.
“I can definitely tell he’s more confident,” safety Darren Sharper said. “He always was a confident kid, but you definitely see he’s more decisive in his reads. He knows where to go with the football. He’s definitely improving and that’s what we’re going to need this year.”
Training camp for Peterson has already been a different experience. Signed the day after last year’s camp began, this time he was prepared for what was facing him and, armed with the knowledge he picked up last year, his learning curve is at a different slope.
“It’s a lot different,” Peterson said of the first few days of camp. “I’m a lot more comfortable and relaxed because I know the offense. It makes the game a little easier for me. Coming in here last year, I didn’t know anything. This year I know a lot more and things are coming a lot easier.”
While no individual player can win a championship on his own, the Vikings offense has a different look to it this year. With opposing defensive coordinators terrified of what A.D. can do to them, they are going to try packing eight defenders into the tackle box. That will put pressure on Tarvaris Jackson and wide receivers Bernard Berrian and Sidney Rice to make defenses pay for such a policy. Peterson said if defenses underestimate the Vikings offense and think he is a one-man show, they will be sadly mistaken.
“During the OTAs and minicamps, those guys have taken steps forward,” Peterson said. “That is continuing here at training camp. Bernard is a tremendous athlete. He’s got a lot of speed and adds another dimension to our offense. We need to try to balance the offense out, and those guys are going to show that we have more balance than some people may think.”
The other skill position players are aware that they need to take the pressure off of Peterson to make him successful. Last year, one of the primary contributions of the wide receiver corps was to throw downfield blocks for A.D. to spring long runs. This year, the receivers expect to make some of their own highlight film moments.
“We know that teams are going to stack things up to try to stop the running game,” wide receiver Sidney Rice said. “We have to hold up our end and make teams pay for doing it. Having (Peterson) back there is a great weapon for us, because we will get our chances to make big plays and make teams pay that put too much attention on stopping the run and take us for granted.”
The attention Peterson gets from fans and opponents alike is akin to having paparazzi chasing Brad and Angelina for a photo of the twins or Britney Spears when she’s climbing out of a truck sans underwear. It seems like all eyes are on him and the expectations are enormous for him to build on what he started in 2007.
It begs the question, just how good is he? Jared Allen has some insight on that topic. For his first four seasons, he lined up against LaDainian Tomlinson as AFC West rivals. Tomlinson is viewed by most as the pre-eminent running back in the game today. But, if you believe Allen, there may be a changing of the guard soon.
“I played against Tomlinson twice a year and, no disrespect to L.T., but I think A.D. is better,” Allen said. “He has such quick moves and can take plays you think you have stopped and make you look just sick. When we played the Vikings last year, he took a run at me that L.T. has done a bunch of times, but I was able to turn the plays back inside and we tackled him. Adrian took the same play, bounced it outside and made me look like a donkey. The next time we played the Chargers, L.T. started doing the same thing. I think he learned something by watching A.D. on film.”
So let the trumpets blare and release the doves. The player some fans came to calling Purple Jesus last season looks even more refined and dominant this year. Don’t take our word for it. His teammates believe they have to come up with new descriptives to define his talent level. There may have been some questions about Peterson’s offseason work ethic heading into the minicamps and training camp, but those questions have already been answered to his teammates’ satisfaction.
“It’s something you always wonder about with someone who had so much success as a rookie,” Sharper said. “He looks better than he did last year. The guy is special. Everyone can say that. It’s one thing to say a guy is special, but (with Peterson), you have to come up with a better adjective. I’m going to look in my Thesaurus for a better one, because he has it.”