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Updated: January 13th, 2012 2:29pm
Adrian Peterson on rehab: 'I'm going to come back better than before'

Adrian Peterson on rehab: 'I'm going to come back better than before'

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Two weeks after knee reconstruction, Minnesota Vikings halfback Adrian Peterson was off crutches on Friday as he told reporters he has no concerns about regaining his prior form and is targeting a return for Week 1 of the 2012 season.

"I'm not really stressing about anything," Peterson said. "The goal is to, my personal goal, is to be back for the first game of the season. We've got this game plan that is laid out and just making sure that I'm executing it. It's going to help me accomplish that goal."

Peterson tore the anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his left knee on a hit from Redskins safety D.J. Gomes on Dec. 24 at Washington.

Dr. James Andrew performed surgery to replace the ACL and repair the MCL just six days later in Birmingham, Ala., and Vikings head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman on Friday said Peterson already is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation.

"I'll say that the last three days have been really awesome," Sugarman said. "He's been riding the stationary bike, he has great motion in his knee with extension and flexion, his quadricep fires really well. Just doing everything that we would expect and then some as we move forward.

"We're not in a race. We're not going to rush him. We're not trying to jump to all the different phases. We're following the protocol that's prescribed for him and everyone that's had an ACL tear. We're just going to continue to progress along at the pace that we know is safe for him."

Peterson has completed Phase 1 of his rehab, Sugarman said, allowing team doctors to remove his sutures and clear him to walk without crutches for the first time on Friday. Phase 2 of rehab will take another two weeks, after which Peterson can lose the large brace that covers his leg all the way to the ankle.

If all goes well, Peterson could begin jogging in a pool as soon as next week, Sugarman said, although dryland jogging won't come for another three months or so, once the patella tendon from which his new ACL was grafted is strong again. The Vikings' first regular-season game of 2012 would fall around 8½ months after Peterson's surgery.

"As 'Sug' knows, it's just been two weeks and I've already been kind of on the edge, trying to push it a little more," Peterson said. "I know around the two-month mark, the three-month mark, it's going to be feeling good and that's when it's at its weakest, the ACL. I'm just going to have to be smart and listen to these guys and just take it slow during that time."

Both Sugarman and Peterson said there is a plan for where he will complete his rehab but declined to go into specifics, other than saying Sugarman plans to make a couple of visits when Peterson is in Houston.

Asked how much he's concerned about whether he'll be the same player again, Peterson said, "Not at all. I've not thought about that once. I've been through a lot in my life. I call out to a higher power and I put my faith in him. I know that anything I put my mind to, I'll be able to accomplish.

"I feel like I'm going to come back better than before. I know people might laugh at that or think otherwise, but you know what? It doesn't matter what they think or how they feel about it. The only thing that matters is how I feel about it and what I believe. I've been able to just go through the sacrifices and whatever it takes to get to that. I've already started that."

The full Q&A

In a roughly 24-minute session with reporters, Peterson also touched on watching a replay of the injury, his thoughts at the lowest point and what the Vikings must do to rebound after two losing seasons. The following is an edited transcript of that session.

Peterson: It's good to see you guys. It's been a minute. Good to see you guys and finally get an opportunity to talk to you for a little bit. All I can say is thanks to the fans for the outpour of support I've been receiving, fan mail, tweets, so many different sources. I just want to tell you guys I really appreciate it and I'm working hard to get back as soon as possible.

Sugarman: He's two weeks today from surgery so that's kind of the No. 1 landmark we were waiting to hit and I'm sure Adrian was anxious to hit it as well because it's not an easy step to get to this first two-week mark. Today's a big day because he's off the crutches at two weeks. We took his sutures out today. So, we look for little victories along the way here on this journey. Those are a couple victories we had today.

What have we done the last two weeks, the first week really was kind of treating his pain. That was probably the worst part of the whole situation was the pain that he was in and that's normal. And then you also have to work on his range of motion. From his range of motion you have to ensure that his quadricep muscle is working. As you can see, my quadricep's bigger than his is on that leg. It just goes away and that's the way our bodies work. You have to be able to re-educate that muscle and we do that through a whole lot of different means to get that muscle to fire again. He's doing awesome now with that.

Other things we worked on through the last two weeks are getting proprioception, getting his balance and his awareness in space, getting him to be able to confidently ambulate or walk without crutches. That's something we take for granted every day, but for someone who had an ACL reconstructed and an MCL repaired, that's not too easy to do, as he would admit. The first week or so he didn't even want to put his foot on the ground at all, and that's understandable. And now you saw him walk in here without crutches and doing great.

I'll say that the last three days have been really awesome. He's been riding the stationary bike, he has great motion in his knee with extension and flexion, his quadricep fires really well. Just doing everything that we would expect and then some as we move forward.

We're not in a race. We're not going to rush him. We're not trying to jump to all the different phases. We're following the protocol that's prescribed for him and everyone that's had an ACL tear. We're just going to continue to progress along at the pace that we know is safe for him.

The ACL, the graft that they put in, they take the middle third of his patellar tendon and two bone plugs, one from each end. Then they make a tunnel and put that graft in his knee. Around the two to three month mark, that is weak. It actually gets weaker from this point forward for a little while because the actual graft, or the tendon they put in there, gets necrotic, or dies. Then it goes through a period of time where it kind of circles collagen around and gets stronger, and then once we get to the 10-12 week mark, it gets pretty stable and becomes strong. So then you're kind of out that kind of scary zone, and I'm talking in regards to rehab. His surgery was certainly a success and everything's fine. That's the one thing that you really have to be cautious the first couple months. You can't push him too hard, otherwise you can put him at risk. He knows that. We all know that. That's why the protocol is setup the way it is.

How hard has it been to get through this mentally?

Peterson: You know, beginning it was tough. Just kind of mentally, just accepting it for what it was. Sitting on it for a week before basically having hte surgery, so I had time to ask myself why this, why that. But ultimately I was able to look at it for what it was, put it behind me and get my mind right for this challenge that was ahead of me.

How long before you coped with reality and were able to move on to the rehab phase?

Peterson: Pretty quickly, I was able to accept it. But then again, I'm human, so you sit there and still ask questions. It wasn't something I was just dwelling on, really stressing myself or having myself down about it as much. But after the surgery, getting back in the building, it was tough. It was painful, like Sug said, I didn't want anyone touching it or try to put it on the ground or anything like that. I feel like the first week was the toughest part for me, not being able to sleep, waking up every two hours, just dealing with the pain and the frustration, looking ahead like, 'wow, I've got a long way before I'm able just to move around and walk.' But after that first week, I feel like things really just started to calm down. The pain started to subside. I was able to just get more motivated about the process.

It often takes a couple of weeks to get the swelling out and be ready for surgery. Why was Adrian able to have surgery so soon?

Sugarman: It wasn't to save time in the rehab. Basically, we treat everyone the same as far as that goes. What you're looking for is the swelling to go down -- it's never going to go away because of what happened inside the joint -- but more importantly you look for their motion. You want the player or person, if you're not an athlete, they want the person to have pretty much over 90 degrees of flexion and full extension. Once they have that, they are a candidate for surgery. He was able to do that. Again, just another example of him getting better faster than other people. He hit that mark, and so we decided to move forward with the surgery. There was no reason to wait just to wait. We've had guys do it sooner."

How important is it for him to rehab here in Minnesota?

Sugarman: I'm a little biased to that question. I think it's great that he's here. We've had a great two weeks so far. It's just the very beginning of the journey. Of course I think I could do a pretty good job of getting him ready. Again, I'm biased to the question. But yeah, it's important.

Do you have a plan for how much of your rehab you'll do here?

Peterson: I do have a plan laid out. We have to discuss what that details. I feel like it's going to be pretty good. It's going to work out. We're going to be able to do this together in the best way.

So, how much of it will be done here?

Peterson: I don't know. It's something we're going to discuss more in detail. I'm confident in the guys surrounding me now, Sug and his staff. The first two weeks, man, just having those guys around, Sug and those guys in there, some familiar faces, guys just encouraging me and pushing me, it's just really helped me a lot. So, I know those guys are going to continue to do a good job in this process for me."

How much of your rehab will you spend here?

Peterson: I don't know. I don't know. It's something that we're going to discuss more in detail, but I'm confident in the guys that are surrounding me now, Sug and his staff. The first two weeks, just having those guys around me, Sug and those guys in there, some familiar faces just encouraging me and pushing me. It's just really helped me a lot. I know those guys are going to continue to do a good job for me throughout this process."

Are you past blaming people for what happened?

Peterson: Yeah, I put that behind me pretty quick. I had thoughts that went through my head and that's just normal and human instincts. Initially I'd say right after the game, I asked myself why. Sug remembers when he came on the field and I was like, 'Why me? Why me?' But quickly I was able to remove myself from that and just accept it for what it was. It wasn't going to change the situation and it definitely wasn't going to help, so I was able to kind of put that behind me quick."

You can't rush stages of this, right?

Peterson: Well, I feel like the Vikings organization and Sug and his staff, they have my best interests at hand. I'm not really stressing about anything. The goal is to, my personal goal, is to be back for the first game of the season. We've got this game plan that is laid out and just making sure that I'm executing it. It's going to help me accomplish that goal.

You're competitive. Is it challenging not to push too hard in the early stages of rehab?

Peterson: Yes, and that's going to be very important for me. As Sug knows, it's just been two weeks and I've already been kind of on the edge, trying to push it a little more. I know around the two-month mark, the three-month mark, it's going to be feeling good
and that's when it's at its weakest, the ACL. I'm just going to have to be smart and listen to these guys and just take it slow during that time."

Are you concerned you won't be what you were before?

Peterson: Not at all. I've not thought about that once. I've been through a lot in my life. I call out to a higher power and I put my faith in him. I know that anything I put my mind to, I'll be able to accomplish. I feel like I'm going to come back better than before. I know people might laugh at that or think otherwise, but you know what? It doesn't matter what they think or how they feel about it. The only thing that matters is how I feel about it and what I believe. I've been able to just go through the sacrifices and whatever it takes to get to that. I've already started that.

Why the patella graft and not another graft or a cadaver?

Sugarman: It's the gold standard. It just made sense.

Did you talk to other guys who have been through this?

Peterson: I had a couple guys on the team that have been encouraging -- (Chad) Greenway and a couple guys that went through the surgery. Heath Farwell and some of
my other teammates from college, a couple guys that I know. Those guys have just been telling me, 'Hey, it's going to be tough. You're not going to feel like an athlete for a long time.' But mentally, the one thing I really grab and put in my mind from those conversations is mentally, that's going to be the tougher challenge. Over this period
of time, you're going to gradually get the strength back and your flexibility and you'll be able to start to move around like you used to. But just mentally it's going to be tough. I've experienced and I'm just two weeks in, but I feel like I'm mentally strong. I was built that way and I feel like I'll be alright."

How tough has all the losing been the past couple of years?

Peterson: It's tough. It is, man. On top of that, to have this, to be in this situation made it even tougher. But hey, the past is the past, that's what it is and I'm looking forward to getting back on the field with my teammates and starting this thing off the right way.

Have you watched the play?

Peterson: Oh yeah. (grimaces, shakes his head) Yeah. ... Just looking at it, your leg is not where it's supposed to go that way, at all. But I knew right off the top, when I got hit, that it was something devastating. And just watching the play kind of puts the cherry on top for it. But it is what it is.

There's not much you can do right? If your foot's planted like that ... do you look at it and say, 'What could I have don different?'

Peterson: Oh yeah. Oh, trust me, I went through that. 'Dang, what if I would have kept it front side? Or, 'If I would have did some ropes during the week, maybe I would have been able to get my foot up faster when I made that cut. But it happened, man. I just figure, what's the odds? What's really the odds of that happening? Right when I plant, the guy coming in, what's the odds? It happened. It was a fluke. I've just got to put that behind me and don't let that hinder me at all through this process.

You don't plant a lot right? You try to dance around and have quick feet?

Peterson: Well, I plant a lot. It was just funny, because right when I cut, right when I was cutting, if they could have slowed it down, it was like right when I was cutting, he was falling. It was like, 'Dang, when I plant, it was meant to happen because it happened.'

Have you heard from the guy who hit you?

Peterson: No, I haven't heard from him

What are the time periods Adrian should be here versus him being back in Houston?

Sugarman: We really break it down into five phases of rehab. We just finished Phase 1, which is the first two weeks. Now Phase 2 will be the next two weeks. It's really more of the same. He'll do better in the next two weeks because his pain is really down now. He's got great motion, and now, what you're trying to do in the next two weeks is restore all of his range of motion, get his quad to work even better, but the big thing at the end of the next two weeks is now he gets to lose his brace that he's wearing. So, then after four weeks, you enter Phase 3 of the rehab, which lasts really until about -- again, you've got to give a little play there -- but between 10 and 12 weeks, which is what I said, when the ligament becomes safe. And then at that point, you're in Phase 4, and you start jogging, straight-ahead stuff, just on land, real easy, and he'll be doing that here, in the HydroWorks pool as early as next week, because when you're in the water, you're pretty much weightless. And then you get into Phase 5, which is usually at about the four-month mark, which is when you don't have really many restrictions at all as far as what you can and can't do safely. But then, of course, it just takes several months to get all your strength back, get your function back, get your agility back and all that power and burst and all that stuff you see him do on the field. We'd like to see him for all those phases, and we will, at some point. So, again, we kind of have a calendar mapped out and a plan in place, and we're all comfortable with it.

Will you get a condo in Houston?

Sugarman: He's already offered a bedroom in a house and said, 'Don't book a room when you come visit.' I probably will go visit him a couple of times.

Peterson: I got you covered brother.

With the proprioception that you talk about, can that be controlled with rehab?

Sugarman: It is controlled. We do a ton of proprioceptive exercises. Something as easy as just standing on, we call it, a balance pad and picking your good leg up and standing on your, you'd be amazed how hard it is for him just to do that right now. Mini tramp, we do something called a cup drill. He's not to that phase yet. There's tons of proprioceptive exercises. Believe it or not, even the Wii, the Wii fit is a really cool thing because it challenges you and its good for balance. He hasn't been on that yet. There are a ton of things that we do to train for that and that's with all injuries.

What's the key for getting guys through the process, not juts physically, but mentally?

Sugarman: The first part, again that's in phases too. The first part's on the field or in the training room when it happens because they're devastated as he was. He knew when I got out to him and I put my face down by his ear, he knew immediately knew that he pretty much tore his ACL and it was confirmed quickly on the field. We knew it as well. You can tell usually by the test. Then when you get through that phase and get to the surgery, the first week to two weeks is just miserable for these guys, and just to kind of get them through that phase and let them see some progress like he had this week where he can get on a bike and bend his leg and his pain level's down. Now it's just a matter of, no one's every going to question his work ethic and I know I said that in my other press conference. No one's going to work harder than this guy. So, it's just going to be, the hardest part for me and I'll say this because we're on record, is going to be keeping him in check and he's got to follow the protocol and not try to do too much, not be influenced by other people and just do it. He'll do fine."

You said eight to nine months last time we spoke to you. What are expectations for Adrian once training camp opens?

Sugarman: Most guys, we've only had one that got injured a couple weeks after him. Cedric (Griffin)'s one ACL (in 2009) was a couple weeks after Adrian's. He was on PUP when we went to camp and I think he missed the first two games (of 2010) if I remember correctly. There's no expectation right now because it's the middle of January. So there's no telling how he's going to do, how he's going to progress. But I think in July we'll reevaluate where he is and what he's safe to do and his function and just his ability on the field and I think we'll take it from there. We'll have to reevaluate and reassess it at that point, but I don't have any expectations. Honestly, I really don't. The only thing we have is a goal and it's his goal to be ready for the first game. If we can meet it, that's great. We're going to strive for it until someone tells us we can't.

What does the team need to do to get better?

Peterson: I don't know. I feel like there's a couple areas where we need some improvement in. I'm pretty sure that's obvious to everyone sitting here. And I feel like the guy we have upstairs will do a great job of filling those voids and bringing in the right guys to help contribute to this team. So, I'm going to leave that to them. That's their job and I'm going to be excited to see the guys they bring in to help us win a championship.

What was going through your mind at the lowest point?

Peterson: Just being stressed and questioning yourself why me and just really feeling bad for yourself. It was so many different things going through my head. Just feeling down, you know. Some of the things I don't even want to say. But, I've got a lot of people around me, a good supporting cast. My families, my loved ones, even the fans, just being able to look on my phone and look at a tweet. Guys just telling me, 'Hey, I wish I could give you my knee.' Or, you know, 'You can come rehab with me.' Just if you need anything, just kind of builds you back up. It was easy for me to snap out of it and refocus and know that, 'Hey, you're going to be alright.' There's things you've been through that's worse than this and you got through it. Just knowing that the good lord won't ever give you more than you can handle. So that's how I'm looking at this situation as I go into it.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
In this story: Heath Farwell, Adrian Peterson
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