Zulgad: Vikings will take step forward with more complete offense
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A healthy Adrian Peterson will report to training camp Thursday in Mankato coming off the second-best rushing season in NFL history.
Peterson's remarkable 2,097-yard effort put him 9 yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season record, made him only the seventh player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season and came less than a year after the Minnesota Vikings star running back tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee.
There could be an assumption made that Peterson will be even better in 2013 than he was in 2012. The ultra-competitive Peterson has talked about surpassing Dickerson's record (set in 1984) and, provided he can stay healthy, it would be foolish to doubt Peterson's ability to establish the mark.
But even Peterson has to know that if the Vikings are going to become a better (read: more complete) offense this season his rushing statistics will be a bit less eye-popping.
The Vikings' reliance on Peterson became ridiculous at times last year as they went from 3-13 to 10-6 and a playoff berth.
Remarkably, Peterson never failed his team and put together an eight-game stretch in which he rushed for 100-plus yards. This included 210- and 212-yard performances in December games at Green Bay and St. Louis.
His 348 rushing attempts were the second most of his six-year career, 15 shy of his total in 2008. Peterson finished with 388 touches, if you include his 40 pass receptions.
There were two things that made what Peterson did all the more incredible.
Peterson suffered a sports hernia in November against Detroit but continued to play through the pain. He ended up having surgery in February and, only at that point, did the Vikings reveal the extent of the injury. The other thing was few teams respected the Vikings' passing game and thus put extra men in the box in order to try to stop Peterson.
The hope at Winter Park for this season is that when Peterson looks at the defensive alignments he won't see as many defenders creeping toward the line of scrimmage.
Christian Ponder, entering his second full season as the Vikings' starting quarterback, and with 26 total starts in his two years, is expected to take a significant step forward.
Ponder helped Minnesota get off to a 3-1 start in 2012 and closed with three strong performances as the Vikings reached the postseason. But in between there were far too many rough stretches that left many wondering if general manager Rick Spielman had made a mistake by taking Ponder 12th overall in the 2011 draft.
Ponder has the ability this season to make it clear that Spielman made the right choice.
Jennings, entering his eighth season, left the Green Bay Packers to sign a five-year, $45 million free-agent deal with the Vikings that included $17.8 million in guarantees. The Vikings made a draft-night trade with the New England Patriots in order to get back into the first round and select Patterson 29th overall.
Jarius Wright sat out the first nine games of his rookie season, but had 22 catches for 310 yards and two touchdowns in the final seven games. Wright will have the extremely difficult task of taking over for slot receiver Percy Harvin, who was one of the best in the business.
The Vikings have to be thinking that Patterson will replace Harvin as their most electric receiver.
The Vikings are hoping that 2013 free-agent disappointments/busts Jerome Simpson and John Carlson will return healthy and make contributions at wide receiver and tight end, respectively. The expected one-two tight end punch of Kyle Rudolph and Carlson never materialized last season but it could this year.
This does not mean Peterson won't remain the central focus of coordinator Bill Musgrave's offense. The NFL has become a passing league, but the Vikings have the best running back in the league and to go too far away from him would be a foolish mistake that won't be made.
But if Peterson had his choice of setting the single-season rushing record or being on a team that took a step forward on offense, and thus had a better chance of winning, there is no doubt he would take the latter.
And if this offense features more than just Peterson in 2013, that means opposing defenses are going to have their hands full and that should make the marquee running back a happy man. Even if he finishes with less than 2,000 yards.