EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Playing in the season opener has been at the forefront of Adrian Peterson's mind almost since he went down with a torn left ACL in the second-to-last game of the 2011 season.
How long it has taken other running backs to return from the injury doesn't concern Peterson. The Minnesota Vikings' star running back has always seen himself as different from everyone else, and he has made it abundantly clear that he expects to play against Jacksonville on Sunday.
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Frazier said on Monday that the Vikings would not make a decision on Peterson's status until game day, and he cautioned that even if Peterson does return, he shouldn't expect the workload he carried before he was injured just yet.
"We recognize if he's able to get in this first ballgame, it'll be with limited exposure," Frazier said. "We'll talk about it as the week goes on and see how he's doing and if it's even a viable option to let him play." That means fewer carries than Peterson is used to getting as the workhorse and focal point of the Vikings' offense, and likely more work for backup Toby Gerhart.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle the Vikings have in handling the situation is Peterson's state of mind. He has worked tirelessly to get himself prepared to help his team, throwing himself into the rehab process from the moment he came out of surgery.
With his team coming off a disastrous 3-13 season, Peterson knows they need him in the backfield to have any chance, and the coaches know it, too.
"You really have to take the emotion out of it," Frazier said. "You have to really hone in on what's best for him, what's best for our team. Adrian is not just another guy on our team. He is in so many ways the face of what we try to do. We have to be able to see the big picture when it comes to him and that's the way we'll approach it." On a rebuilding team coming off of a last-place finish in one of the strongest divisions in the league, the Vikings may not need to rush him back. He felt like he was ready to play in the preseason, but coaches and the team's training staff preferred to take a more gradual approach.
"I'd love to have him out there, that goes without saying for our entire team," center John Sullivan said. "But at the same time it's out of our hands. I hope he is. But if not, we've got to go forward with the guys that are ready to go." Peterson wasn't available for comment Monday, but he did participate in practice. Coaches will be especially interested to see how he handles himself in Thursday's padded practice.
"We have to see him get through some things and see how he handles certain things from a mental and physical standpoint," Frazier said. "It's different when there is no endpoint, in his case he knew a few weeks ago he wasn't going to play in the preseason. Now the mindset changes a little bit and we have to see how he handles that." Gerhart emerged as a capable fill-in for Peterson after the injury, the kind of physical runner who gets better as the game goes on and the carries increase. Gerhart had just 24 carries in the first 10 games last season, but his work load increased over the final six games as the Vikings faded from contention.
As the carries increased, Gerhart's production did as well. He rushed for 91 yards on 21 carries and caught eight passes for another 42 yards against Denver on Dec. 4, then picked up another 90 yards on 19 carries the following week against Detroit.
Peterson went down two weeks later in Washington and Gerhart came through with 11 carries for 109 yards, the first time he's topped 100 yards in a game in his two NFL seasons, and showed that he is up to the task in the NFL.
"With Toby we can run our offense even if Adrian isn't in there," Frazier said. "We feel like we don't have to change any of our plays. We're very confident and comfortable with Toby being our lead back if that's the case. The same runs that Adrian would have would be the same runs that Toby would have."
NOTES: CB Josh Robinson (concussion) and S Mistral Raymond (back) returned to practice after missing the preseason finale. Frazier said they should be ready to play on Sunday. The only player whose chances are questionable right now appears to be backup LB Marvin Mitchell, who has a high ankle sprain. ... The Vikings signed OL Kevin Murphy, DL Ernest Owusu, WR Tori Gurley and WR Chris Summers to the practice squad.