Adrian Peterson didn’t want to nag, but the idea of standing on the sideline as a spectator irritated him. So the NFL’s reigning MVP lobbied Leslie Frazier to let him play in the Vikings’ first two preseason games.
To which there really was only one reasonable response.
ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?!
Peterson’s eagerness to play in meaningless exhibitions provides further evidence that he’s wired differently than his peers. Given the choice to play or sit out early preseason games, most veterans would gladly trade their helmet for a visor and spend the night cracking jokes on the sideline.
That’s like asking your kids if they’d rather have ice cream or spinach for a snack. But not Peterson, who admits he’s “itching” to hit someone other than a teammate.
“I’m all about competing and getting better with my team,” he said.
That’s certainly understandable and ostensibly is the reason behind the team’s decision to play Peterson in the third preseason game Sunday night at San Francisco.
The Vikings first-team offense has coughed and wheezed like an ’86 Yugo in Peterson’s absence the first two games. The starters have managed three points in six drives and looked completely bamboozled by Buffalo’s blitzes last week.
It’s no great revelation to suggest the Vikings offense struggles to function normally with Peterson not available to save the day. Everything revolves around him, whether he touches the ball or not. The Bills probably wouldn’t have acted so blitz-happy if Peterson had been on the field.
This creates a dilemma for Frazier, who wants to see his offense start to click and establish some continuity before the season starts. Teams treat the third preseason game as a quasi-dress rehearsal for the opener, and the Vikings want Peterson to get a brief taste of actual contact before then.
The logic makes sense, but no matter how much Peterson begs, Frazier should resist the urge to play him Sunday, even if the plan calls for him to get only a series or two.
The injury risks far outweigh any potential benefit. Peterson’s body takes enough pounding during the season. Why expose him to one of the best, most hard-hitting defenses in the NFL? Have they not seen the rash of injuries that have occurred around the league?
Peterson doesn’t need preseason work to know what game speed feels like. He goes through daily life at warp speed already. If Peterson skipped preseason, does anyone honestly believe he would get to the opener in Detroit and think, Man, these guys are really moving fast.
True, the offense looks lost without him, but what happens if Peterson becomes unavailable during the season? The Vikings can’t forfeit. They should use this opportunity as a test run.
Coaches can’t allow themselves to become paralyzed by the fear of injury, but this is different because it’s preseason. One key injury can dramatically alter a team’s outlook before real games even start.
Peterson didn’t play a snap in the preseason last year and that worked out pretty well. He only put forth one of the best seasons ever by a running back.
“I just want to get in and play a little bit,” he said. “Just kind of knock the rust off a little bit.”
It’s hard to envision Peterson sitting still long enough to collect rust. He cured his boredom during special teams practice this week by doing extra drills with the defensive line.
Preseason games remain a valuable evaluation tool for coaches and a time for players to improve their conditioning, fine-tune fundamentals and simulate game speed. Not everyone needs that, though.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily that I need it,” Peterson said. “But it’s just being out there as an offensive unit and not having any missing pieces.”
That’s admirable but unnecessary. Peterson nearly broke the NFL rushing record last season without any preseason work. Why mess with a good thing?