For the third straight offseason, Adrian Peterson is recovering from surgery.
This time, the Minnesota star has started the final year of his 20s. This is the point in his career where so many NFL running backs, even the elite, have started to drop off. The wear and tear on their bodies can be too much to overcome.
Peterson is as proud as they come, though, so after taking part in minicamp this week with the Vikings he wasn’t ready to concede any kind of decrease in production.
But he has embraced an option for circumventing the aging process without sacrificing production: catching the ball out of the backfield more, and thus carrying it a little less.
"Definitely going to be involved more in the pass game. That’s something I look forward to," Peterson said at Winter Park on Thursday after three days of initiation into new offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s complex system.
"When he was in San Diego and Cleveland, he always found a way to get the running back out in space. So I knew once we hired him that will be something new for me. I’m pretty excited about that."
Peterson’s first career touchdown was actually a 60-yard reception that came in his NFL debut in 2007, good fodder for trivia questioners but hardly foreshadowing of a multi-faceted approach by the Vikings to feeding the fleet-footed, powerful runner the ball. Peterson has only turned a catch into a score five times in seven seasons, and his per-year average is 29 receptions and 242 yards.
"There’s no question any offense is based on getting its best players involved," Turner said. "Adrian is obviously our best player, but we have a lot of other guys who can make plays and the best offenses I’ve been with utilize everybody.
"You get five guys who can legally handle the ball and we want to use them all. We want to be a diversified offense that can make explosive plays, but we want to run the football and certainly that starts with Adrian."
Peterson’s best season as a receiver out of the backfield came, naturally, in 2009 during Brett Favre’s renaissance. Peterson had 43 catches for 436 yards that year, and he has long stressed his ability to grab the ball in the air has been better than advertised.
"I’ve caught a lot of passes. I just haven’t had an offense that really distributes the ball to the running back a lot. That will change, for sure," Peterson said.
To reach 2,097 yards rushing in 2012, Peterson needed 348 carries. Last season, he missed two games to injury but still had 279 attempts.
Peterson, though, said he hasn’t felt as if his body is by any means breaking down, despite operations on his knee, abdomen and groin the past three winters.
"I feel like I’ve been able to bounce back. I really don’t look at the age thing as really an issue. You see guys stay in this league way past 34, perform at a high level.
"I just try to keep my mind focused on the positive things, and being in this situation as far as recovering, I’m just taking care of my body, doing what I have to do," Peterson said. "I have no doubts that when the season comes around, I’ll be ready to roll."
Peterson said he felt about 80 percent recovered this week, still trying to restore full strength and balance but more than four months away from the games that count. When September comes, so could the catches.
"The rushing yards might not be up to par, but it’s not about that," he said. "It’s all about winning. I’m trying to win a championship, so if that’s taking less of a pounding and being more productive in the pass game, I’m all in for it."