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Updated: August 28th, 2011 9:12pm
Zulgad: New coaches don't want Adrian Peterson sweating the details

Zulgad: New coaches don't want Adrian Peterson sweating the details

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- Adrian Peterson swears nothing has changed.

The Pro Bowl running back said new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and running backs coach James Saxon haven't abandoned the "patience is a virtue" approach that former coordinator Darrell Bevell and position coach Eric Bieniemy so often preached in Peterson's first four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.

That directive instructed Peterson to wait for his blocks to develop and not just hit the first gap he saw because that might not be the design.

"I've still got to be patient and let things develop," Peterson said on Saturday night, when told it appeared as if the philosophy had changed.

"You've got (offensive linemen) pulling and giving guys different looks. You still gotta be patient, know who is in front of you, especially when I'm back there, to give those guys time to get up to their blockers, and then hit it."

This might be true. But watching Peterson rush for 81 yards on 14 carries in two-plus quarters of the Vikings' 23-17 preseason loss to Dallas on Saturday at the Metrodome, it appeared as if the new offensive staff doesn't want Peterson thinking as much as the previous regime.

That might not seem like much, but for Peterson, it could be huge.

Unlike wide receiver Percy Harvin, who might have as high of on-the-field IQ as any Vikings player, Peterson is never going to be the most savvy guy out there. His struggles in pass protection through the years are an indication of this.

A coaching staff can do one of two things. They can let it bother them and try to work with Peterson to get him to improve his technique, or they can accept the fact they have a running back who has more God-given talent than almost anybody in the NFL and tell him to do what he does best.

Namely, take off when he sees daylight.

It appears Musgrave and coach Leslie Frazier have elected for the latter.

"I hope he's not (thinking)," Musgrave said. "We've never told him to think or have paralysis through analysis. A lot of players can do that, so we try and let those guys play fast. We give them some guidelines and try to structure some plays, but we want them to cut it loose. That's when everybody plays best."

A guy like Peterson also plays his best when given positive reinforcement.

Before this season, there were few Vikings practices in which you didn't hear Bieniemy chastising Peterson for a miscue. Peterson would never complain about it on the record, but behind the scenes, there were a few who acknowledged the superstar had grown tired of being berated as if he were an undrafted free agent taking part in his first training camp.

This summer in Mankato, you didn't once hear Saxon verbally go after Peterson, who has proven if he has an issue that needs to be fixed, it's best to let him work on it.

During his first three seasons, Peterson had an NFL-high 20 fumbles and lost 13 in the regular season. This doesn't include the 2009 NFC title game at New Orleans in which Peterson was charged with two fumbles -- he didn't lose either -- but took responsibility for a botched handoff with Brett Favre that did result in a turnover late in the first half at the Saints' 4-yard line in the Vikings' overtime loss.

How did Peterson handle the matter?

He disappeared from the Vikings facility for nearly the entire offseason, missing the mandatory minicamp to attend festivities related to a weekend in his honor in his hometown of Palestine, Texas, and then returned to a flurry of queries about how he would cut down on fumbles.

Peterson answered with his play, losing only one fumble on 319 touches in 15 games during the 2010 season.

Peterson, who is being paid $10.72 million in the final year of his contract in 2011, seems content with his situation, even if that doesn't include a long-term extension in the near future.

He was very pointed with his comments last week, saying his focus isn't on his contract but rather on the field. That isn't good news for opponents, who probably wouldn't have minded seeing Peterson conduct a lengthy holdout.

Former coach Brad Childress and Bevell certainly featured Peterson in the past, but in the version of the West Coast offense they ran, he also had to fit into what they were doing.

Musgrave seems much less stringent in his ways.

The Vikings' first offensive series Saturday provided a preview of the fact that Peterson is going to be given every chance to play the staring role whenever possible -- even if he isn't the one stepping into the end zone.

Peterson ran the ball on five of the first six plays before Donovan McNabb connected with wide receiver Bernard Berrian on a 49-yard touchdown pass. That scoring play might have been Peterson's favorite of the drive, considering it will force defensive coordinators to think about the potential consequences before deploying multiple defenders up toward the line of scrimmage.

And, of course, the first time they fail to do that, Peterson is going to get the ball and be told to take off.

"That's going to be huge," Peterson said of the Berrian touchdown pass. "With losing Sidney (Rice), the question was, who is going to step up and become that big-play receiver down the field and stretching the field? He's picked up the slack. Percy Harvin is out there doing a good job. I feel like we're going in the right direction right now."

As for the workload Peterson is expected to get starting Sept. 11, when the Vikings open the season in San Diego, Musgrave said an average of 25 carries per game to start with would be high.

Last year, Peterson averaged 18.9 carries in 15 games, giving him 283 for the season. That was his lowest total since he had 238 in his rookie season, when he sat out two games because of a knee injury.

Considering Peterson's expected to be a big part of the short-passing game, too, -- he had a career-high 43 receptions in 2009 -- his touches almost certainly will go up.

"I think we can increase (his carries) as the season goes along," Musgrave said. "We've got a good stable of backs. So, we're going to run the football, and they're all going to get their share -- with Adrian getting the majority of it."

And the directive to Peterson this time will be a simple one: Do what you do best and don't sweat the details.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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