EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Preseason has provided a glimpse into new coordinator Norv Turner’s plans for the Vikings offense and a look into how Minnesota’s players fit Turner’s philosophies.
The Vikings have rushed for 130.7 yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry through three preseason contests. Minnesota’s quarterbacks have a 106.3 quarterback rating, six touchdowns to one interception and have averaged 7.8 yards per attempt. Tight end Kyle Rudolph and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson both have receiving touchdowns of more than 50 yards.
"I think it’s shown up enough in preseason that when we do things right we can be an explosive team," Turner said.
And the Vikings haven’t unveiled their best offensive player, running back Adrian Peterson.
"He’s the best running back in football," Turner said. "This is still a game of players not of schemes. You get a guy in there who is hard to tackle and is an explosive runner and obviously has great vision. In all of the things he brings, he’s going to change it dramatically."
Minnesota’s offense still begins with Peterson, who won’t play at all in the preseason for the third straight year. Turner and coach Mike Zimmer know what they have in Peterson. They don’t want their top offensive option getting hurt in the preseason, and it’s smart to limit the punishment on the 29-year-old Peterson.
Turner has seen Peterson throughout the offseason, training camp and preseason in practices, which makes his observation of Peterson’s handling of a new offense intriguing.
Asked, in general terms, about evaluating players to know if they’re developing or have plateaued, Turner brought up Peterson’s name, unprompted.
"One of the guys that I think has improved a great deal, talking about developing players, is Adrian Peterson," Turner said. "He’s taken it on himself to do some things a little different and I think it’s going to pay off for him.
There are new possibilities even for Peterson, who’s rushed for 10,115 yards in his seven NFL seasons.
"There’s a lot more runs out of the gun," Peterson said. "That’s different. I really didn’t run the ball out of the gun a lot last year. Even in single-back or with the fullback in front of me, we have some different runs that we’re going to be able to (implement) when the season starts."
Only Turner, Zimmer, and perhaps Peterson, know the impact the 2012 NFL MVP will have on the offense.
"I think he’s really zeroed in and focused in on what we’re trying to do," Turner said. "We’ve added some different runs, some runs that are a little different in terms of his style. He’s taken to them and I think he’s getting very comfortable with them. Obviously, some of the things we’re doing with him in the passing game. He’s worked really hard."
And the Vikings won’t show the final piece to their offense until the regular season begins on Sept. 7 at St. Louis. Peterson will join quarterback Matt Cassel, Rudolph and Patterson, and receiver Greg Jennings in a versatile offense.
Last year’s 5-10-1 record underscored the work of the offense, which looked better with Cassel under center and ended up 14th in the league in scoring despite a quarterback carousel that saw three signal-callers start games. Minnesota averaged 344.25 yards per game, which was 13th in the NFL, and 24.4 points per game.
The relative success came with Cassel starting six games, Christian Ponder starting nine and Josh Freeman starting once. Peterson was limited to 14 games. Patterson was slow to come around on the offensive side in his rookie year.
Now they’re all together again, led by Turner.
"I like our offensive players and they know how I feel about it," Turner said. "We’re not going to play 11 players; you can only play 11 at a time, but I think we have 16, 18 guys that can contribute to what we’re doing — guys that can have different skills, different skill sets and it’s our job as coaches to put them in a position to use those skills.
"I don’t consider it a new offense anymore. It’s not new to me, certainly, and I don’t think the players feel like it’s new to them anymore."
Much of the offseason and preseason talk has been centered on the possibility of Peterson catching the ball more in Turner’s offense. He had just 29 catches last year after 40 the previous season, and he’s four years removed from his career-high of 43 receptions set in 2009 when Brett Favre was the team’s quarterback.
Peterson’s work in the receiving game has gotten Turner’s attention.
"Catching the ball, a big part of it is getting in the right position to catch it," Turner said. "He’s got a better understanding now than I think he’s had, that if you do these things right in terms of how you run the route, how you release, where you end up for the play, then it’s a lot easier catch than if you do it otherwise. I think the quarterbacks and (Peterson) have worked hard at getting on the same page and understanding what we’re trying to do."
Peterson is trying to do his part.
"Pretty much everything: running routes out of the backfield, lining up wide in empty formation and running routes as well," Peterson said of what he’s worked on. "He’s just trying to get me in pretty much any situation he can with this offense to put the ball in the running back’s hands."
Soon, Turner will be able to unveil the final piece.