The Vikings defense won’t get accused of making a lot of noise.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes embodies the unit’s quiet approach toward dominance. But he was the one stating the obvious this week: Vikings defenders are looking forward to Monday night and tackling Saints running back Adrian Peterson, who for years was treated like a quarterback — not allowed to be tackled — at Winter Park in Minnesota.
The “extra adrenaline,” Rhodes said, may be inescapable.
“It makes it more interesting once he bounces it outside or catches the ball,” Rhodes said. “You have that extra adrenaline, whatever you want to call it, if you can stop him so you can talk trash later on that day.”
Rhodes, now the Vikings’ highest-paid non-quarterback, isn’t going to wait that long. He respects Peterson, entering the league 10 weeks after Peterson was named the NFL’s MVP for the Vikings in February 2013. He called Peterson a “great player” and noted “once he gets going, it’s over.” But most of the talking between Rhodes and Peterson happened on the Vikings practice field, where it was about pride. The field is where the chatter will escalate Monday night.
“We had a couple conversations where I told him I’m not going to back down from him,” Rhodes said. “He told me we’re going to see how that ends. So we definitely are going to see how that ends starting Monday night.”
Peterson ran for 11,747 yards for the Vikings. He won three NFL rushing titles and claimed the franchise’s third NFL MVP award. However, an unceremonious end for No. 28 included 28 missed games to suspension and injury in his last three seasons. The Vikings have mostly deflected attention from Peterson’s return to Minnesota, spearheaded by Mike Zimmer, who declined Tuesday to discuss his three years coaching the NFL star.
Peterson, after a decade in Minnesota, arrives with his own point to prove, telling the Star Tribune last month “of course I want to stick it to them. I want to stick it to everyone we play. But going back to Minnesota, playing the Vikings? Yeah, I want to stick it to them.”
Peterson said the Vikings made him a lower offer after they declined his $18 million option and after they signed Latavius Murray this spring.
“I hope we have a chip on our shoulder,” Zimmer said. “This game isn’t about Adrian Peterson. It’s about the Vikings and the Saints. They’ve got a lot of great offensive weapons and he’s a great player, but this game isn’t about Adrian Peterson.”
On the field, the Vikings do have more to worry about with the Saints than Peterson, who joins a fellow future Hall of Famer in quarterback Drew Brees. Peterson is listed as a co-starter on the Saints depth chart, but Mark Ingram is expected to take the lead. The Saints’ three-headed backfield also includes third-round pick Alvin Kamara, the shifty rookie who picked up 118 yards on 10 touches in the preseason.
So how much Peterson plays remains to be seen, but he’ll still take the spotlight against the premier Vikings unit that stuck out their own chests at him during practices. Linebacker Eric Kendricks said he’s focused on No. 22 (Ingram) and No. 41 (Kamara) as much as No. 28, admitting indirectly seeing Peterson in a Saints uniform will be weird.
“I mean, for the entire world of football, yes. He’s been a Viking his whole career. Everyone knows what he did for the organization,” Kendricks said. “I’m going to have to tackle him and face that opportunity.”
The man leading the Vikings committee replacing Peterson, rookie Dalvin Cook, couldn’t get a more eventful NFL debut. The Vikings are also honoring legendary receiver Randy Moss in the Ring of Honor during a nationally televised game.
“It’s going to be crazy,” Cook said. “[Peterson] did a lot for this organization. With him coming back, I know everybody is going to be hyped about it. They’re going to be ready to play. It’s going to be one of the best games of the year. We just got to be ready to go, which I know he is.”