EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — It was a year ago and the circus was swirling around Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings.
The star running back was distrustful of some in the organization after a season away. His agent was hinting that a clean break may be best for everyone. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman felt compelled to fly to Houston to visit Peterson and try to get everyone back on the same page.
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Flash forward to the Vikings’ first full-team, optional practices of the spring. And all of that drama, all of that uncertainty has been buried by another rushing title, a playoff appearance, and an unbending respect between a star player and his coach.
Peterson attended the organized team activities this week, going through all the workouts and pledging to be one of the leaders who helps the Vikings recover from a gut-wrenching playoff defeat to Seattle last January.
"You know I always try to come back and do better than what I did the previous offseason, and there was a lot of things that I was able to take back from last offseason that opened my eyes," Peterson said Wednesday. "This year it might be the little things, but I’m that much more focused."
Peterson missed the final 15 games of 2014 while addressing child abuse charges that stemmed from disciplining one of his sons. Once reinstated, there was some speculation the Vikings would ask the 30-year-old to take a pay cut to return to the field, Peterson’s agents made it clear that wasn’t an option.
After so much speculation, so much back and forth, Peterson returned to the Vikings in June. He led the NFL with 1,485 yards, scored 11 touchdowns on the ground and resumed his role as the focal point of the offense. The Vikings (11-5) won the NFC North, but were beaten at home by the Seahawks in the playoffs when Blair Walsh’s field goal try in the closing seconds was missed.
This offseason has been devoid of the same breathless speculation and reading of tea leaves. The Vikings paid Peterson his full $12.75 million last season and his contract calls for $11 million in guarantees this year with a $250,000 workout bonus.
That, coupled with a strong level of trust between Peterson and Zimmer, had helped solidify Peterson’s place with the franchise that drafted him.
"We’re truthful with one another," Peterson said of his relationship with Zimmer. "We’re open. He can tell me what’s on his mind without holding anything back, and I do the same as well. So when you have that type of relationship it’s easy to be on the same page and to not take things personal even if it comes across maybe in the wrong light, or you don’t like what the other person has to say. You can take it as truth because you have that feeling and that understanding that person has your best interests."
Even when the criticism was hitting Peterson the hardest, Zimmer stood behind his man. But the no-nonsense coach clearly is pleased to be putting all of the dramatics of last spring behind him.
"Last year, there wasn’t a lot of things I could do, so I just concentrated on football then, too," he said. "I think when you’ve got all the guys here, it’s easy to focus on football and concentrate on it."
Entering his 10th season, Peterson remains as important to the Vikings as ever. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is still growing into his leadership role; tight end Kyle Rudolph will attempt to play all 16 games in two straight seasons for the first time in his career; and the receiver corps is full of young, but unproven talent.
He has been integral in acclimating the younger players and new faces to the team this week, leaving each conversation with a simple reminder.
"I always end it with, `We’re trying to win a championship,’ " Peterson said. "So we want you to help us be a part of that.’"