Adrian Peterson (Leon Halip/Getty)
Adrian Peterson spent the first month of the season having his percentage of playing time slowly increase. Last week, however, the reins came off and Peterson returned a workload matching the workhorses of the NFL.
One thing you can say about Leslie Frazier and Adrian Peterson is that they are honest.
When the fan base got ecstatic at the announcement that the Vikings had activated Adrian Peterson in the early August portion of training camp – ironically, the one day when drills were forced inside – Frazier made it clear that Peterson was active, but not really active. He curbed the enthusiasm by warning the media types not to hang the “Mission Accomplished” banner just yet. Peterson didn’t play a single down in the preseason, which led to speculation that perhaps A.P. wasn’t ready for prime time.
The thunderous Metrodome ovation at his announcement in the starting lineup Sept. 9 was the coronation of A.P. Version 2.0, but it wasn’t the coming back party the face painters envisioned. It was a well-orchestrated movie trailer for Peterson’s 2012 U.S. Tour. A medical miracle? Somewhat. A testament to Peterson proving his critics/doubters/naysayers wrong? Damn skippy. But, behind the scenes, the plan was in. And that plan didn’t target Sept. 9 as the “Let’s get it on!”-style Mills Lane invocation, it was more on the order of the Dr. Frankenstein “It’s alive!” exclamation.
Frazier had a different date and a different page on his calendar in mind. By their nature, NFL types compartmentalize seasons into segments. Ask any coach, player or sideline guy who holds a water bottle and they will tell you that a 16-game season is viewed as four seasons.
The date Frazier likely had in mind for A.P. being A.D.D. (All Damn Day) was Oct. 7. By that point, they would have four games in and, if he wasn’t everything that was hoped or expected, he would continue to have the bit in his mouth pulling the thoroughbred back from doing too much too fast.
It may not have been noticed (by most), but their laboratory planning played out to perfection.
In Week 1, Peterson was on the field for 32 plays – 54 percent of the time. In Week 2, he was on the field for 43 plays – a 34 percent increase, but 61 percent of the Vikings offensive plays (an increase of a more understandable 7 percent). Week 3 saw a modest increase, perhaps in response to Peterson’s reaction to playing at a higher level in Week 2. His time on the field increased, but moderately – six more plays, but only a 1 percent increase in the actual percentage of offensive plays.
However, after last week, Peterson said he felt he had, for the first time, “knocked off the rust” from what he knows a game day to be. He was sore, but, in a strange way, it was a good kind of sore. It was “normal.” Normal sore is good for NFL players. For them, Mondays and Tuesdays are ugly.
Seeing an ice bag taped to Peterson’s surgically-repaired knee Monday as he walked through the locker room could be seen as a bad sign. Instead, it’s a great sign. In Week 4, Peterson had the reigns taken off and was allowed to gallop. He was on the field for 79 percent of the Vikings’ offensive plays.
To put that number in perspective, only four running backs in the NFL have been on the field for a higher percentage in the first four games of the season than Peterson’s 79 percent last week – Darren McFadden (82.1 percent), LeSean McCoy (82 percent), Ray Rice (81.3 percent) and Chris Johnson (81 percent).
That’s pretty fast company and none of them are coming off knee surgery.
What those numbers tell us is that Peterson has been systemically unleashed on the NFL as a precautionary measure. Both Peterson and Frazier have kept their promise to the organization. Peterson said on New Year’s Eve that he would be on the field for the regular season opener Sept. 9.
He was true to his word.
Frazier took the pragmatic approach. Give him the “first season” of 2012 to prove to the satisfaction of the organization that they aren’t “rushing him” back. Frazier made a point not to allow Peterson to risk any damage in meaningless exhibition games. He would gradually unleash The Beast incrementally. Frazier’s target was Oct. 7.
He was true to his word.
Whether Peterson proclaims himself some variant short of 100 percent the next time he is asked by a random cameraman or if he is officially at full speed, as the Vikings enter the “second season” of 2012, let the Tennessee Titans and the other opponents on the remainder of the Vikings schedule know that the reigns have snapped off and Secretariat is being allowed to run at full speed.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.