EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Adrian Peterson was back on the practice field on Wednesday for the first time in nearly three months, and the Minnesota Vikings hope their star running back can give them the jolt they need to chase down a playoff berth.
Peterson’s rehab of a torn meniscus in his right knee is nearly complete, allowing him to rejoin his teammates at practice as he ramps up for a highly anticipated return. Wearing a black brace on his right knee, Peterson took handoffs from Sam Bradford, ran routes and went through some agility drills during the portion of practice that was open to media.
Peterson was not available for comment on Wednesday, but did tell a local website earlier in the week that he is still targeting the Dec. 24 game in Green Bay for his first game since the injury against those same Packers in Week 2.
Coach Mike Zimmer did not rule out Peterson playing against the Indianapolis Colts (6-7) on Sunday, but that appears optimistic at this point. Peterson said last week that he likely would not play in a game this year if the Vikings (7-6) were eliminated from the playoff hunt, but after beating Jacksonville last weekend they remain very much in the mix in the NFC.
“He’s been a leader on this team. He’s one of the best players in this league and he has been for quite some time,” Bradford said. “I think just having him back out at practice in the huddle, I think it’s a definite lift to our guys.”
The Vikings are operating under the assumption that they have to win their final three games to get into the playoffs, and Peterson’s return certainly would increase those odds.
The Vikings offense has struggled mightily to score points and make big plays this season, with an injury-riddled offensive line the primary culprit. Getting a player of Peterson’s dynamic ability back into the lineup should help a rushing offense ranked 31st in the league, especially one that struggles in short-yardage situations. The Vikings were stuffed on four downs near the goal line on Sunday against Jacksonville, and Peterson’s nose for the end zone, vision and power could make a dramatic difference in that area, among others.
“Any chance you get to add Adrian Peterson back to your lineup, it’s a positive,” Bradford said. “I think we’ll definitely take him back in the lineup regardless of if there’s any challenges or not.”
Zimmer was pretty tight-lipped about Peterson’s presence on Wednesday, not looking to make a very big issue out of it when the timeline for his return in a game remains in question.
Whenever he does return, Peterson will be coming back to a different offense than the one he left in Week 2. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner resigned in November and the Vikings elevated tight ends coach Pat Shurmur to that position.
With running backs Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon struggling to make big plays and Bradford under siege behind a leaky line, the Vikings retooled their offensive attack to feature more quick passes. That’s a big change from the Peterson-centric offense that the running back has been accustomed to for most of his career.
“It’s like any player that comes back,” Zimmer said. “You try to figure out what they do well, how they fit into the system and things you need to change.”
Bradford was not concerned about accommodating Peterson back into the fold.
“Obviously it’s a little bit different than the first couple weeks of the season, but Adrian’s a great player and I’m sure he’ll be able to adjust,” Bradford said. “We will find some things that he’s comfortable with, some runs that he likes that they’ve had success with in the past.”