WEST PALM BEACH, FLA. - Vikings coach Leslie Frazier delivered the update Wednesday with obvious enthusiasm. Adrian Peterson has hit the ground running.
Peterson has returned to the Twin Cities this week to begin the next phase of his knee rehabilitation. A little more than 12 weeks since having surgery to repair torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee, the star running back has been cleared to try running on land again.
Peterson is doing so this week under the watchful eye of head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman at Winter Park.
Frazier's assessment nearly three months into Peterson's rehab? Yes, it's still early. But so far, so good.
"Everything he's done up to this point has been very good," Frazier said. "So we're hoping once he starts running he'll stay on course as well."
At this point, that eye-opening and ambitious timeline Peterson set for his return has not had to be altered. The Vikings likely will open their 2012 season Sept. 9. And everyone within the organization still hopes Peterson will be able to play that day.
"That's what we're aiming for," Frazier said. "That's what he wants to see happen. That's what we'd all love to see happen. At the same time, we'll have to be smart and see where he is. This is the beginning stages of his running. So we'll have a better gauge in another one or two weeks as to what kind of progress he's going to make.
"We need to determine, is he going to have any swelling after the first time he runs and then when he begins cutting and turning and twisting? It's a long road ahead."
Sinking in, bouncing back
For Frazier, the severity of Peterson's injury didn't immediately register when Peterson took a handoff on the first play after halftime on Christmas Eve and felt his knee pop after a hit by Redskins cornerback DeJon Gomes.
Peterson's agony seemed obvious as he laid face down and twitching, his injured left leg bent like a pipe cleaner. Yet Frazier had a game to coach. So he wasn't able to fully wrap his brain around what had happened to his franchise running back until he had a chance to visit with Peterson on the flight home.
"To see the emotions in his face, that's when it began to sink in a little bit for me, that this was a career-threatening injury," Frazier said. "He's such a special guy. And I have such a personal affinity for him, it just made me determined, being around him at that moment, that if anyone can make it back, this guy can. But at the same time, you felt a sense of loss to a degree."
Peterson's expression on that sobering flight remains ingrained in Frazier's mind.
"He was pretty strong and trying to be encouraging," Frazier said. "But you could tell something was missing. He's such a jubilant guy, especially after a win. And he was so serious as we were having this conversation."
On the rise
It wasn't long before Peterson transformed the acceptance of his injury into a fiery ambition to return to full strength as quickly as possible. Yet Frazier, Sugarman and the therapists Peterson has been working with in Houston have issued consistent reminders that the driven running back can't rush the recovery timeline.
Slowly but surely, that message has sunk in, enabling Peterson's progress to remain on an upward climb. To this point, Frazier said, Peterson has "exceeded expectations." But the operative phrase there is "to this point."
"It's too early right now to say that he's going to absolutely make it back by the first game," Frazier said. "But so far, he's on target with everything we've asked him to do."
In the meantime, Frazier and General Manager Rick Spielman continue hunting for added backfield depth. The Vikings are firm in their belief that Toby Gerhart can be a reliable starter in Peterson's absence. But having let Lorenzo Booker go in free agency, the search for a third back will continue.
So, too, will the team's ongoing evaluations of Peterson's recuperation.
Said Frazier: "He's a guy who wants to defy the odds with this injury. He wants to do things when he comes back that no one with an ACL tear has ever done."
To this point, Peterson's focus and work ethic have continued to fill the Vikings' optimism tank.