As Turner modernizes offense, Peterson wants to add pass-catching
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner made clear this week that while the NFL as a whole may have devalued running backs, he won't take Adrian Peterson for granted.
The next question, then, is whether Peterson can adapt to fit an offense that has traditionally asked backs to catch passes.
Turner has worked with a collection of talented running backs, and he suggested that some observers in Minnesota may have become numb to Peterson's abilities. Turner described Peterson as "explosive a player as I've been around, as fast of a player."
"You guys have all seen it, witnessed it firsthand on a regular basis. Sometimes with a player like Adrian you can start to take it for granted but I certainly never would because I've been around some really, really good ones and he's right up there with the best," Turner said.
When you think about great backs under Turner, LaDanian Tomlinson comes to mind. Peterson and Tomlinson aren't quite the same, of course, but Peterson said Thursday as Vikings minicamp drew to a close that he's worked to add pass-catching to his bag of tricks.
Peterson said he's worked alone this offseason on his hands, never considered his strength.
When he hasn't had Brett Favre at quarterback, he has never been a true threat in the passing game. He's been a runner almost exclusively. One of the best runners who ever played, sure, but just a runner all the same. In 2009, Favre's first season in Minnesota, Peterson caught 43 passes and averaged 10.1 yards a catch. The year after, he caught 36 passes and averaged 9.5 yards per catch. He did catch 40 balls in 2012, but at just 5.4 yards per catch, he was hardly a threat in the passing game.
Turner and the Vikings see Peterson as an every-down back, even with the addition of Jerick McKinnon in this year's draft. That means Peterson probably will be asked to pick up blitzes and do more out of the backfield than simply take handoffs.
That also could help mitigate the inevitable decline that befalls all running backs as they age into their thirties. (Peterson said such empirical evidence doesn't apply to him; he said with a slight grin that he's going to channel Favre and avoid a decline until he's 40.)
Turner said this week during minicamp that he's tried to "modernize" his offense by updating some parts of an offense that, he said, those who played in it 30 years ago still would recognize.
"A big part of that is finding ways for Adrian to not have to run in such crowded areas all the time. He's going to have to do that, that's part of his job, he's the best in the league at it. But if we can get him more space we can take advantage of his great abilities," Turner said.
Peterson said he's known what to expect since the Vikings hired Turner. Many around the league are familiar with his offense, and Peterson might be especially aware of how running backs are used.
"I have a pretty good idea. I kind of knew before when we hired him, just knowing his offensive style," Peterson said.
Head coach Mike Zimmer was asked this week if he'd seen anything from Peterson that surprised him. He said he knew about the speed and the power, but Peterson's cuts made an impression, as did his hands.
"The way he catches the ball is very, very good, I didn't know what kind of receiver he was," Zimmer said.
"I think I've seen him drop one ball the whole time [in three days of minicamp]. ... Obviously, when he's got the ball in the hands he's extremely dangerous. I think he caught one out here today on a flat route or a swing route."
Zimmer continued: "I think obviously, having a guy like Norv Turner, who he respects and he wants to continue to get him the ball in different ways. I don't want to put words in his mouth, but I think he's happy."
Without reading too much into that "respect" comment and what it may say about former OC Bill Musgrave, it seems there's a mutual admiration between Peterson and Turner. It's clear each can help the other succeed, and so it's a good start that they sound like they're on the same page in June.
"He's got good hands, I think he's comfortable with the routes that we would ask him to run," Turner said. "It's certainly not the lead part of what we're doing. We threw a screen to him yesterday that was as nicely set up as you could ask for and the linemen got out in front. If we can get him in space like that throughout a game, throughout the season it will help all of us."