Day One of camp is complete in Mankato. Before the Access Vikings team shuts it down for the night, here are three things you should know.
1) After seven months of rehabilitation on his left knee, Adrian Peterson was finally given a red light by the Vikings.
First things first: This was the smart decision, the Vikings officially placing Peterson on the camp Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list on Friday. If you’re wondering what that really means, it’s essentially an electric fence the Vikings have installed to keep Peterson away from drills and practice until the medical staff feels it’s right for him to return.
So for fans who came to Friday’s practice at Minnesota State University hoping to get a glimpse of Peterson, they had to squint pretty hard. Or borrow some binoculars. As the rest of the team went through its regular work, Peterson was way off in the distance, three practice fields over and working with head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman.
Understand this: Peterson is a physical freak and has been so conditioned to think of himself as such, that he had it in his mind that his rapid recovery would have him back in the practice mix on the opening day of camp.
Peterson was likely the only one who ever saw that as a reasonable option. And that goal was officially squelched Thursday night when the medical staff endorsed the PUP decision and head coach Leslie Frazier met with Peterson to deliver the news.
“He put up a fight,” Frazier admitted. “Knowing Adrian like we all do, he said, ‘Coach, don’t hold me back. Let me get out there.’”
Peterson didn’t get his way on this one. And realistically, it’s possible the Vikings might not clear him for practice at any time during their stay in Mankato.
Remember, Peterson’s gruesome knee injury, which included ACL and MCL tears, happened just a little more than seven months ago. His recovery progress to date has been all sorts of encouraging. And his goal of playing in the regular season opener on Sept. 9 is still reachable. Those are all things the running back himself needs to focus on.
Yet Friday, Peterson seemed a bit dejected by his PUP status, wanting the media to know that he feels ready to play right now.
“The one thing I'm missing is being out there and actually going through the actual football activities and guys [grabbing] your legs and making cuts and things like that,” Peterson said. “That's something you can't imitate off to the side by yourself.”
During the preseason, the PUP tag can be removed at any time. And until the rosters are cut from 90 to 75 next month, the Vikings can’t exempt PUP players from their official roster head count. So the only obvious reason to give Peterson that tag right now is to simply put in a formal measure that encourages him to take a deep breath and to work on strengthening his knee and his left leg without rushing too many steps ahead.
No matter how good Peterson feels, no matter how confident he is right now in his recovery, the regular season is still six weeks away. Why not take another two or three weeks to monitor the progress and then turn him loose? That’s the Vikings’ rationale. And it’s the only practical decision, even if it will leave Peterson a bit antsy and perturbed in the short term.
“Hopefully here soon,” Peterson said. “Those guys will feel comfortable enough to let me go."
Yep. Peterson is like that eager driver's ed student right now, his foot jamming on the gas even as the instructor applies the emergency brakes from the shotgun seat.
2) As much as the Vikings were enthusiastic about Friday’s first practice, they’re all looking forward to Monday much more.
That’s when the pads come on for the first time. Which means the tempo of practice will go up a notch. The feistiness too. And it’s then, players insist, when they really start getting a feel for the kind of team they have assembled.
“We’re going to find out quickly who’s going to be mentally tough in the games,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “So when it gets down to the nitty-gritty, these three weeks of training camp here in Mankato, that extra week this year, guys are going to have to be mentally strong to make it through. And we’ll find out who those guys are real quick."
Added left guard Charlie Johnson: “I think the level of competition that guys have will be seen when the pads come on. Once the bullets start flying, you can tell a lot about how hard guys want to compete and how well they can translate what they’ve learned in the meetings onto the field.”
Robison has a hunch that this team will have a competitive edge to it. He sensed that way back in the spring when players returned for the offseason conditioning program and then channeled their energy from that toward OTAs and mini-camp.
“You could sense the team camaraderie,” Robison said. “There was great competition among guys. And you could see not only the want to get better but the fact that guys were willing to do the things that it takes to be a better team than we were last year. These are the 2012 Vikings now. We can’t be thinking about last year. We’re just trying to make sure we come out and have a much better season.”
3) The Vikings aren’t mailing in the 2012 season and want that made clear.
Quarterback Christian Ponder said in a radio interview last week that he believed the playoffs were in reach for this team. This year. And yes, the realists immediately rolled their eyes. But what else is Ponder supposed to say?
Frazier followed Thursday and said he wouldn’t write this team off in August either, wanting the team to understand the dynamics and parity of the NFL that make quick turnarounds possible. (Again, that’s the predictable message.)
Add All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen to the mix. On Friday, Allen too made it clear that he’s not interested in letting last year’s disastrous 3-13 season squelch the hope for the strides that can be made this season.
Said Allen: “If you’re not out here trying to win a championship, then there’s no reason to be out here. If you’re out here like ‘Oh, we’re just going to try to win eight games here, you’re wasting everybody’s time and you’re wasting the Wilfs money.’”
Give the Vikings credit for having their leaders on both sides of the ball and on the coaching staff sing that hymn loud and proud. It’s what needs to be done for a team this young with so much ground to make up. Truthfully, a six- or seven-win season would likely indicate marked progress. But the mindset toward building something bigger for the future doesn’t allow for the leaders of this team to assert that baby-step progress will be celebrated.