Football is finally here as both the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers got an early start by opening their training camps this past weekend in advance of the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame Game on August 9 in Canton, OH.
Many in the national media are bullish on the Vikings taking the next step toward the postseason because of the belief in Mike Zimmer’s defense, along with the assumption that second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is the real deal and will only be buoyed by the return of star running back Adrian Peterson, who played just one game last season while embroiled in an ugly child-abuse scandal.
Saturday was evidence that time heals all wounds, as Peterson the pariah was turned back into the football hero as the throng in Mankato greeted the multi-time All-Pro and former MVP with open arms.
“It feels good to be back, to get training camp started,” he said. “I can’t say that I’m ever ready for training camp for the past nine years until I actually pull into Mankato and then get that sense, like, hey it’s here, and no turning back, the ball is starting to roll. I’m excited and I’m looking forward to a great season.”
Fresh off a restructured contract, the superstar was feeling his oats a bit, throwing out some goals that other running backs wouldn’t dare dream of. Already just one of seven players in history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season, A.P. set his 2015 bar at 2,500.
“I always keep the mark at twenty-five (2,500),” Peterson quipped. “So if I get close to that, that’s not bad.”
The reality, though, is that the Vikings want Peterson nowhere near 2,500 because that would indicate they have remained a one-dimensional bunch.
Remember, as good as Peterson was before he was shelved, perhaps the best combination of speed and power this league has seen since Jim Brown, he was only given the opportunity to rush for 2,097 yards in ’12 — nine yards short of Eric Dickerson’s single-season record — because of the ineffectiveness of Christian Ponder.
With Bridgewater at the controls and an outside-the-numbers threat like Mike Wallace added to a receiving corps that includes a solid tight end in Kyle Rudolph, a receiver that offensive coordinator Norv Turner believes can be a star in Charles Johnson, and the ultra-talented Cordarrelle Patterson, a player who can’t run routes but could develop into a Percy Harvin-like headache if Turner every figures out how to manufacture him some touches, the Vikings expect and, perhaps more importantly, want a more balanced approach on the offensive side of the football.
“You can’t predict the future but we have high expectations around here that we’re not afraid of,” Bridgewater said. “I’m excited to have Adrian back, Kyle Rudolph, Mike Wallace, all of us on the field at the same time.
A.P. reciprocated that love.
“(Bridgewater) is a heck of a quarterback,” Peterson said. “He’s smart, he has that drive and that want to be great. I’ve seen that in him last year, I’ve seen that in him at training camp and watching him through the season and how he finished off. I feel like the sky is the limit for him and the sky is the limit for our team.”
Zimmer tried to temper those expectations a bit, perhaps understanding he still has a relatively young group as a whole that is being lauded for its potential, not its actual production.
“I’ve been on teams that have had high expectations and didn’t perform up to expectations. I’ve been on teams that had lower expectations and exceeded them. I kind of take it with a grain of salt,” the coach said. “I believe that no team that has played in a temporary stadium has gone to the playoffs, so we got that going against us. We’ve got other things. We were 7-9 last year. I reminded the team of these things.
“But the thing I keep telling the team is that if we go out here in this parking lot and we play better than everybody else, we’ll win the football game. If we’re the smarter team on Sunday, if we’re the tougher team on Sunday, if we take care of the ball better, if we execute better, we’ll do those things. It’s nice to have people say nice things about you but at the end of the day, if you don’t go out there and work, they’ll be saying the exact opposite very quickly.”
Perhaps no one understands that fickleness better than Peterson.
“Things work out and I feel like things worked out in this situation,” he said. I’m just happy that I’m here. I’m happy to be a part of the Minnesota Vikings organization. To get back to our goal, and that’s bringing a championship to Minnesota.”
The clock is ticking on that for Peterson, who is now 30, traditionally the line of demarcation between ascent and descent for NFL running backs. On the other hand, though, he’s played just one game in 20 months, saving mileage on the legs, and took to Twitter recently to show off a new tattoo which also confirmed the Texas native is in tremendous shape.
“My body feels great,” Peterson claimed. “Mentally, I’m stronger than I’ve been ever before. I just have a different mindset when it comes to life in general and football, too. With that, I know it’s going to make me a better player.”
— You can reach JF McMullen at email@example.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this week on YAHOO! Sports Radio, FOX Sports Radio, ESPN Atlantic City, YSR Indianapolis, ESPN Lexington, Omaha’s The Zone, Mobile’s WNSP, Baltimore’s 105.7 The Fan, 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, and ESPN Southwest Florida.