EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Running back Adrian Peterson is taking his first hits in practice with the Minnesota Vikings in his continued recovery from major knee surgery.
Coach Leslie Frazier said that Peterson, who had surgery Dec. 31 to repair two torn ligaments in his left knee, began taking hits from the defense during team drills Monday. Peterson returned to practice two weeks ago after being activated from the physically unable to perform list, but Frazier had a strict no-hitting policy on Peterson, who will not play during the preseason.
Without any games to prepare Peterson for the regular-season opener Sept. 9, Frazier said the team would slowly start to give Peterson more contact during practice to get him ready for game conditions. That first contact came Monday.
“We put him through some things today,” Frazier said. “We told our defense to hit him a little bit, see how he responded. So, I’m anxious to talk with him and see how he did. I told (running backs coach) James Saxon that we were going to be contacting him today and if the guys hit him too hard to make sure he let me know or Saxon know. He told James Saxon, ‘Hey, you tell coach, you better tell those defensive players to buckle up.’ I knew it would get him fired up. He did pretty good just from an observation standpoint. So, we’ll see when I talk with him how he feels.”
Peterson’s knee has responded well in his return to practices, and he said last week he hasn’t felt any soreness. He’s gradually increased his reps, taking as many as 18 carries during team drills on some days.
Frazier said Peterson didn’t receive a big workload Monday as the team is still weighing its options for the third running back spot behind Peterson and Toby Gerhart. But Peterson hasn’t had any trouble when given more reps either, giving Frazier even more reason for optimism.
“He’s been able to handle the workload,” Frazier said. “He’s done a lot of things that you like to see him do, and today was another step in the process. Looking forward to talking with him and see how he felt about guys banging him a little bit.”
Peterson’s contact was limited completely to the upper body. Frazier and the Vikings don’t want the defensive players going low on Peterson. But taking contact is a big step for Peterson, who has said the only part left in his recovery is taking hits and reacting to game situations.
Peterson has worked tirelessly to recover from surgery less than eight months ago and told Gerhart during training camp that he might be in the best shape of his life. A big test on his surgically repaired knee was reaction to unexpected developments during play and ability to react with the side-to-side movement and cutting that Peterson is so well known for. Taking contact is another mental hurdle in his recovery.
“There were times he had nowhere to go,” Frazier said. “He had to run into people and respond. It was good to see. There were some good hard hits but nothing to the ground, just guys stunting him, and it seemed like he handled it pretty well. I’m sure he’ll be a little bit sore tomorrow.”
Peterson’s status for the first regular season game has been in question, and Frazier has refused to put a timetable on the exact game Peterson will be activated. It’s been Peterson’s goal since surgery to return for the regular season Sept. 9.
Frazier is still trying to see how Peterson responds before deciding if the four-time Pro Bowl back will be available for the opener and how many carries he will receive.
“I want to see what he has to say after what we did today,” Frazier said. “Then we have to go through a full week with him in the game plan and see how he responds. So, I’m anxious to talk with him and see what he thought about today.”