Adrian Peterson said he believes his recovery from knee surgery is "right there, feeling good each week and getting stronger."
That is good news for the Vikings. If they are to win at Detroit on Sunday, they will need a big day from their great running back, like the one he had two years ago, when he carried the ball 23 times for 160 yards against the Lions in September 2010.
Peterson, who despite tearing two knee ligaments at Washington in Week 16 last December still returned in time to play the 2012 opener, said he is physically feeling fine on the field but is still fine-tuning some of the more intricate aspects of the game.
"I'm just getting out there and getting in a rhythm, and it's more so mentally [challenging] as far as reads and your different assignments and stuff," said Peterson, who is averaging 4.0 yards per carry, having rushed for 230 yards on 58 attempts in three games.
Not only is he coming back from a serious injury, but he has had to work with a revamped offensive line, an offensive line he says he is high on. "We have some young guys that have stepped in and they're doing a good job," he said. "I see them gelling each week and just improving."
The former Oklahoma star also thinks that the addition of first-round draft choice Matt Kalil at left tackle and shift of Charlie Johnson to left guard has been a plus.
"He's a huge difference," Peterson said of Kalil. "Not only is he a great pass protector but he does good work in the run game, too. That was a good move by us, selecting that guy."
Peterson is also happy to be seeing more passing plays called for the running backs. He has caught six passes for 44 yards this year, including two catches against San Francisco on Sunday. Last year, he had 18 receptions in 12 games; in 2010 he had 36 in 15 games.
"That is something we've been harping on as a group, a running back group, just to be more involved in the passing game," he said. "You see how that really helped us out in this previous game."
Even though Peterson is coming off the injury, he said defenses still seem to be keying in on stopping the Vikings run game, and that has enabled Christian Ponder to pick apart opposing secondaries.
"You see some front fours, they're trying to stop the run and got the extra guy in the box. That's what we want," he said. "You want to stack the box, and we'll throw the ball over your head. They have to pick their poison.
"[I want to] continue to run the ball and be productive. When you're doing that and continue throwing the ball, they have to pick their poison, so that's the way to beat that."
Peterson believes the team has had a greater focus because veterans have been talking to the younger players.
"That's what I sense, just the attitude and the willpower of everybody in here came out [against the 49ers]," he said.
"I think that helped out a lot. Some of these guys don't have the guidance and they don't really know what to expect, so when they hear a guy like Antoine Winfield or Mike Jenkins, Jared Allen, you hear one of those guys say something, they open their ears and listen. They take heed of it."
Talking about Sunday's game in Detroit, he said: "A divisional game, even more important than last week and the previous games. We're going to do whatever we can do this week for our preparation and be ready to go out and accomplish our goal, which is winning.
"They have a good fan base and are a talented team. It's part of the game and it's what we have to do. I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Las Vegas oddsmakers have made the Gophers seven-point underdogs at Iowa on Saturday. But in the Gophers' favor is that the Hawkeyes have lost three of their past four games at home.
And quarterback James Vandenberg, who had nine touchdown passes in the first four games last year, has only one this year, on 128 attempts. A year ago Vandenberg passed for 3,022 yards and 25 touchdowns.
The big threat facing the Gophers defense is running back Mark Weisman, who rushed 27 times for 217 yards last week in the loss to Central Michigan. On the season, has carried the ball 53 times for 338 yards, an average of 6.4 yards per carry.
Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said this game will give the defense a marker as to how much it has improved.
"We gave up 270 yards rushing against them a year ago and we can't do that again on Saturday and expect to win," he said. "We have to stop the run."
• Vikings defensive end Allen has done well against the Lions, including a 1-yard touchdown catch on offense from Damon Huard when he was with the Chiefs in December 2007. With the Vikings in 2008, he was credited with a sack and a safety when Detroit quarterback Dan Orlovsky stepped out of the back of the end zone. In 2011, he sacked Matthew Stafford three times in both of the Vikings' games against Detroit.
• Ponder was asked about his relationship with Stafford, who might not play Sunday. "We're kind of friends, we kind of went through the whole recruiting process and we're from Dallas together," Ponder said. "... He's a heck of a player."
• ESPN recently took a look as to why Big Ten football is so far down this year, noting that there hasn't been a Big Ten quarterback selected in the first round of the NFL draft since Penn State's Kerry Collins in 1995. The conference is 1-9 in the past 10 Rose Bowls and 8-11 in BCS bowls since 2002.
• The Minnesota Daily reported that Gophers football game incidents involving police are down from last year despite adding alcohol sales at TCF Bank Stadium. Alcohol gross sales for the first three games have been: New Hampshire $118,118, Western Michigan $127,657 and Syracuse $164,927.
• Gophers baseball coach John Anderson has scheduled a news conference for Tuesday to show off the new Siebert Field. Anderson is spending time these days trying to raise money to add lights and a covered batting cage, something that would have been a part of the building had Dick Ames of Ames Construction been allowed to make his contribution.
• Twins infielder Jamey Carroll is hitting .379 (22-for-58) in 16 games this month. ... Joe Mauer going 0-for-4 against the Yankees on Wednesday didn't help his chances to win his fourth American League batting title, but Miguel Cabrera has had a rough stretch and is hitting only .327 to Mauer's .323. ... The Twins are 30-48 at home this season.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org