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Vikings camp report: Peterson's ACL recovery (and Ponder's improvement) key to season

by | National NFL Insider
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Peterson has been hard to hold back in camp, but ACLs are nothing to mess with. (US Presswire)  
Peterson has been hard to hold back in camp, but ACLs are nothing to mess with. (US Presswire)  

MANKATO, Minn. -- Adrian Peterson wanted to practice. He wanted to go. Since coach Leslie Frazier isn't an idiot, he held back one of the NFL's most powerful engines, knowing that patience was key.

"It's funny," said Frazier, "I was just talking to Adrian about that very topic a minute ago. He's dying to go. But we want to be smart about how we break him in. There's no need to rush him.

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"I told him just now, 'Let's continue to be careful.' But there's no question we're going to have to fight to keep him off the field until he's ready."

This Vikings camp is all about one guy: Peterson. Peterson, Peterson, Peterson. And did I mention Peterson? The question: What will we see from Peterson when he returns from the physically unable to perform list? The answer: No one really knows. In speaking to several teammates, they don't know, either.

Peterson is in tremendous physical shape. There's been no weight gain since he shredded his ACL last season. It's been the opposite. He looks fantastic. He looks downright skinny, actually. But running backs and torn ACLs go together like Chinese athletes entering the Olympic opening ceremony to a Pet Shop Boys tune. Running back coming off an ACL tear? Not good. Peterson, whose main game is generating torque and power off quick bursts, coming off a tear? Even worse.

The common belief around football (and I believe in the Vikings locker room) is that we won't see the old Peterson, at the earliest, until middle of the season. Until then, he might look half a step slow.

"Just don't count him out for having a big year this year," said Frazier, "but we're still going to be smart about it."

Team objectives

 Get running Toby Gerhart ready. It's going to be an interesting situation early in the season. If you think Peterson is complaining now about being held back, wait until the season starts and the staff is cutting his carries in half, giving them to Gerhart. That's likely to happen, and it's smart. The staff knows the reality which is you break a major piece of weaponry like Peterson in extremely slowly and carefully, thus Gerhart likely will share a bunch of snaps with Peterson early.

 Develop Everson Griffen into a linebacker. At defensive end last year, Griffen's weight increased to 276 pounds. The Vikings like those players to be in the 260- to 265-pound range. Griffen reported this time at 258. Not bad. Frazier wants him to play linebacker. Griffen is an underrated athlete capable of playing many positions but if he can settle at linebacker he could help transform this defense.

 Be a sleeper. This sounds crazy but I think the Vikings are one of the great sleeper picks in the league. I'm not alone.

"We definitely are," quarterback Christian Ponder said. "You can hear it already, everyone counting us out. We've got some weapons and I promise you I'm going to be better. I can pretty much guarantee we're going to be a factor this year."

Frazier added: "What I told my guys was just because a writer or someone says you're going to finish last doesn't mean you will. We're definitely sleepers. Stranger things have happened in this league."

Camp battles

Right guard: Brandon Fusco and Geoff Schwartz. "Well, we'll put Chris [DeGeare] here in the mix as well, we'll give him a chance. We'll let those guys battle it out and hopefully we'll be a better team with whichever one ends up winning the job."

Kicker Blair Walsh vs. himself: I've seen this before. One kicker in camp with no competition, and the kicker gets either soft or -- in some cases -- gets totally overworked and is burned out once the season starts. The Vikings are cognizant of both possibilities and working to make sure a young kicker like Walsh doesn't get cocky or burned out. They're putting him in pressure situations while also monitoring the number of times he kicks. It's almost like a training camp pitch count.

Somebody to watch

WR Percy Harvin. So far, no drama. He reported to camp and said all the right things. Harvin is the key to the wide receiver group but if some of the younger Vikings talent develops, forcing defenses away from constant Harvin double-teams, he could have a monster season.

Injury roundup

 CB Josh Robinson is day to day because of a hamstring injury.

 TE Mickey Shuler is dealing with a heel injury. X-rays and MRI scans show no serious damage.

 WR Stephen Burton has a toe injury but isn't expected to be a long-term absence.

The last word

"I need to cut back on the turnovers," Ponder says, smiling while stating the obvious. "I'll do that."

He will. I think Ponder, who is smart, coachable and talented, plus was able to enjoy a full offseason, is going to improve dramatically. Even if Peterson is sluggish early, a maturing Ponder has enough weapons to do damage until Peterson gets back.

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