The defense was surprised. Bill Musgrave would have been more stumped than a man looking for the pea in a street-corner shell game.

On Tuesday, a ball was snapped on the first play of Adrian Peterson's first on-field football activity since last September.

"Everybody knew Adrian was getting the ball," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.

Typically, that wouldn't have stopped Musgrave, the team's former offensive coordinator, from sending Peterson and the pigskin into a nine-man defensive front. Only Tuesday was different with offensive coordinator Norv Turner working for the first time with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Peterson on the field together as starters.

"Norv called a play-action pass," Zimmer said with a smile. "So the defense got fooled pretty good on that one. Those are the kinds of things that [Peterson] helps us with."

Tuesday wasn't about Peterson's on-field performance in an unpadded, noncontact June OTA session. It was about the 19-minute news conference that followed and whether Peterson could start convincing a skeptical fan base that he's worthy of their trust after nearly a year in exile because of the injuries he inflicted when he disciplined his 4 ½-year-old son with a wooden switch.

From this viewpoint, an apologetic Peterson not only said the right things, but also struck an appropriately remorseful tone that certainly appeared sincere. That's a huge step toward this whole mess fading away and the football field finally coming back into focus.

Assuming no other unforeseen fiasco rises up to take down Turner's offense, old Norv should be quite the happy camper if the offensive line holds up. Bridgewater is emerging in Year 2, tight end Kyle Rudolph is healthy, Mike Wallace is the polished deep threat the team sorely lacked and Peterson is, well, Peterson.

"I do believe that we can be very, very explosive," Zimmer said. "I think that we can spread the field, and it can be good for everyone."

Turner's offense doesn't have a catchy name. Just a couple of Super Bowl titles to count among its many highlights.

A noted quarterback guru, Turner sometimes doesn't get credit for the 11 seasons in which he's had both a 1,000-yard receiver and a 1,000-yard rusher. It's a sign of how well he has morphed the best of John Robinson's old Southern California running game with the explosiveness of the route numbering system of Don Coryell's "Air Coryell" passing attack.

"I love the coaching staff," Peterson said. "I feel like as a group this is the best coaching staff that we've seen since I've been here. … We have a young team, a hungry team, an excellent young quarterback who has a year under his belt now and we have a lot of talent. We can accomplish great things."

With a limited running game and Charles Johnson as the No. 1 receiver by default, Bridgewater finished last season by ranking first in yards per attempt (9.18) and second in completion percentage (72.3) in December.

Five times for three NFL teams, Turner has had the league's leading rusher. Twice, he has had the league's leading receiver. He has also had 15 1,000-yard rushers and 15 1,000-yard receivers since 1991.

Yes, Peterson turned 30 this year. No, the Vikings aren't worried about him breaking down, which is why they never flinched when it came to paying him $12.75 million this season.

"I saw a report on 30-year-old running backs and some of them had some great, great, great, great years," Zimmer said. "This guy is a Hall of Fame player. He's not just a guy to come in off the street."

Barry Sanders is Peterson's favorite player. Barry went for 1,491 yards the year he turned 30. Walter Payton reached 1,684 yards at age 30, while Emmitt Smith ran for 1,397.

"I feel good," Peterson said. "There are young guys that I work out with in Houston — younger guys like 24, 25 and first-year guys that are going to play — and I outrun them, outjump them and everything else. Age is just a number."

Mark Craig •