Life away from football is different now for Adrian Peterson, but the 30-year-old running back already has felt a sense of normalcy in his three weeks back with the Vikings.
It’s not just the rush of splitting a pair of defenders on the field or the connection he feels with his teammates in the locker room. It’s the questions he is being asked again, too.
Can he shoulder the same kind of workload this year? Does he expect to be more involved in the passing game? And what exactly makes him so confident that he will stiff-arm Father Time and defy the statistical trends that say he is bound to hit the wall any year now?
His answers remain the same: Yes. Of course. And because he outworks everyone else, that’s why.
“Whatever they call on me to do, I’ll be ready to do it,” Peterson vowed Thursday.
Peterson still was playing catch-up Thursday as the Vikings concluded their three-day minicamp and wrapped up their offseason program. But his return to the team after an eight-month absence has gone about as well as anyone could have expected given the lingering animosity that existed between Peterson and the team. From a football standpoint, things feel familiar.
Beyond Winter Park, though, Peterson said life does not yet feel normal after his NFL suspension after pleading no contest to reckless assault and then his uncomfortable offseason staredown with the Vikings.
“It is what it is. It’s normal, but of course it’s different,” Peterson said. “But I’m making it as normal as I can, surrounding myself around people who love me. I’m moving forward.”
The six-time Pro Bowl running back has done that throughout his career, putting his head down and driving through most obstacles. And even though in March he hit 30, an age that has typically been unkind to tailbacks, Peterson expects to be his dominant self in 2015.
Only 46 times in NFL history has a running back in his 30s rushed for 1,000 yards, according to Pro Football Reference. Over the past decade, the feat has been accomplished 13 times, most recently by Frank Gore with the San Francisco 49ers in 2013 and 2014.
Gore, Thomas Jones, Fred Taylor, Tiki Barber and Warrick Dunn are recent examples of running backs who had a couple of 1,000-yard seasons in their 30s. Only three 30-somethings — Emmitt Smith, John Riggins and Walter Payton — have ever had three 1,000-yard seasons. None in that group has had more than three.
But Peterson still has his sights set on Smith’s career rushing record. He enters 2015 with 10,190 rushing yards, good enough for 28th all-time. He stands 8,165 yards behind Smith.
So why does Peterson, who played just one game in 2014, think he will be an exception by remaining productive for at least a few more seasons?
“I feel like I’m blessed. I feel like just my mind-set that I have, my work ethic, as well. That’s a big part of it, having a good work ethic,” Peterson said. “I don’t know which guys you’re talking about, but I’m sure some of those guys just got tired of working out.”
Peterson can’t relate to that feeling, and he says he trained hard during his suspension and time away from the team. That’s why he believes there was little rust for him to knock off this month.
“Just to be honest, I felt good from Day 1,” Peterson said. “I’ve had a long time to work out. There’s nothing like coming out here and playing football. Maybe like a day or so, after that first day the legs were just a little sore — the calves really. But after that I could tell that I’ve really been working because I really didn’t feel too much soreness after that.”
Now that he is back, the Vikings sure sound like they expect Peterson to again shoulder much of the backfield burden this season, with backups Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata spelling him.
“Adrian, he is the guy, so he’s going to get the ball and those other two guys are going to have to fight for their reps,” coach Mike Zimmer said.
With the season opener in San Francisco still well down the road, Peterson’s concern of late has been transitioning back onto the field and into the team. So far, so good these past three weeks.
“I feel pretty good. It’s been good just to be out here with the fellas, get back in the swing of things, open my mind back to the playbook and what [offensive coordinator Norv] Turner is asking us to do,” Peterson said. “It’s been pleasant.”