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Updated: September 2nd, 2012 11:28pm
Zulgad: Vikings' plan means there is no reason to rush Adrian Peterson

Zulgad: Vikings' plan means there is no reason to rush Adrian Peterson

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

One can debate the way that Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has gone about rebuilding the team's roster.

If Spielman's plan of almost completely tearing the roster down to build it back up works, he will be heralded as a genius in a few years. If it doesn't work, then the Vikings are in for a long run of futility that will cost coach Leslie Frazier his job and also could result in Spielman's demise.

No matter what comes of the "Spielman Plan," there is little doubt that the 2012 Vikings are in for another long season. The issue was that last season the Vikings went 3-13 and had little to show for it other than the fact that rookie quarterback Christian Ponder was able to make 10 starts.

This season the Vikings might be lucky to win four or five games, but the message from Winter Park after each defeat will be that progress was made with each game.

But as the "Spielman Plan" unfolds there is one other thing that has become extremly clear: There is absolutely no reason to put Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson back on the field until everyone is absolutely sure he is 100 percent ready to go.

Not 98 percent. Not 99 percent. One-hundred percent.

Look at the makeup of this Vikings roster and common sense tells you there is no justification for risking Peterson's health and the recovery of his left knee.

So far the Vikings have been spot on with how they have handled Peterson as he attempts to return from two torn ligaments in the knee.

Peterson had no interest in starting training camp on the active/physically-unable-to-perform list and even threatened to fight it. The Vikings brass, however, convinced him upon his arrival in Mankato that that would be the best thing for everyone involved.

The ultra-competitive, ultra-driven Peterson went along with it.

Peterson next set his sights on playing in a preseason game and the Vikings played along with him. The Vikings then sat Peterson down again and explained to him it would be best to wait.

Peterson appeared less than thrilled with this but went along with it.

Peterson has now set his sights (in a big way) on playing in the regular-season opener next Sunday against Jacksonville.

Frazier and the Vikings have been noncommittal on this subject, and last week Frazier said that it would be a "game-time decision" on whether Peterson will get the nod.

The assumption among many is that Peterson indeed will suit up and play, although Toby Gerhart will get the majority of the carries.

But the Vikings handling of Peterson when it comes to the Jacksonville game has been consistent with how they have handled everything else in his recovery and that means two things.

One, a decision likely already has been made about whether he will play, and two, the Vikings aren't going to come out and say a word about that decision too soon because they know there is absolutely no reason to upset Peterson any earlier than necessary.

The Vikings have done a masterful job of trying to keep Peterson's spirits up and not deflate him. He has put in countless hours and worked feverishly all offseason to recover from the torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments he suffered last Dec. 24 at Washington.

As with everything Peterson does, his goal is to set a new standard for the recovery from this type of injury. Perhaps it might be worth pushing things a bit if this Vikings team was considered one of the NFC's best and desperately needed one of the NFL's best running backs.

But that isn't close to being the case and those that make the decisions for the Vikings are fully aware of this fact. Plus, the Vikings are paying Peterson $36 million in guarantees as part of the seven-year contract they signed him to last September. That is even more reason to proceed with caution.

Just as Spielman's decisions with this roster have everything to do with the future and little to do with the present, the decision on how to handle Peterson is going to have everything to do with trying to be sure that when he does return he can be as effective as possible.

And the reality is that it will be far more important to have an effective Peterson from day one of the 2013 season than it will be to have him contribute in 2012. Peterson isn't going to be able to save this year's edition of the Vikings no matter what he does.

Peterson also has to understand - no matter how impatient he might be - that because of when he was hurt that he only missed one regular-season game because of it.

He underwent surgery on Dec. 31 for an injury that usually requires anywhere from six to nine months for recovery. Peterson is at just over eight months at this point.

Could he play against the Jaguars? Sure. Does he want to? Absolutely. But is it going to make a difference in the grand scheme of things whether he returns in Week 1 or Week 3? Nope.

And given the surrounding cast Peterson will have around him when he does return, the Vikings' brass can't be faulted if it continues to take a cautious approach with one of its biggest and most important investments.

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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