ASHBURN, Va. -- Adrian Peterson's first game revealed something, even if it came in the preseason. His vision remained strong, allowing him to hit narrow creases or avoid trouble. His subsequent work in practice has taught the Washington Redskins even more. He remains competitive and meticulous in his preparation.
What it means, starting Sunday at Arizona, is anyone’s guess. Peterson is trying to do what few have done: excel as a running back at age 33. Then again, only 11 NFL running backs have ever run for more yards.
“There are special athletes out there that defy the numbers,” said Redskins running backs coach Randy Jordan. “I’m hoping he’s one of them.”
There are reasons to wonder; he is older, after all, and coming off a season in which he played for two teams, rushed for a combined 529 yards and missed five games with a neck injury. He missed 13 games in 2016 with a torn meniscus.
There is reason to swing the other way, too, namely because Peterson remains in excellent shape and, those around him say, motivated. Jordan sees it every day.
“He is very competitive,” Jordan said. “You don’t get to where he is in terms of his career if you don’t have something different about you. He’s kind of a perfectionist. He’s anal about a lot of different things, his routine. He’s never satisfied. He always feels he can do better, which is why he is who he is and why he’s been able to play as long as he has.”
And it’s why he has rushed for 12,276 yards and aims for more. Those who doubt motivate him.
“I’d be lying to say it doesn’t, but I feel like anyone doing anything, you always have some doubters,” Peterson said, “that people give up on you and it motivates you to keep pressing forward. That’s been part of my motivation.”
When coaches ask him how many carries he wants, Peterson said he tells them, “I’m like, how many times do you want? You want 30? You want 15? You want 40? Whatever it takes. ... I’m excited, man. It’s a new journey for me. It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve had a group of guys in front of me that are good at blocking. I’m very excited about that. I’ve been looking forward to that for two to three years.”
His workload Sunday against the Cardinals, for whom he played six games last season, will depend on how the game unfolds. The Redskins expect to see a lot of eight-man fronts, which could place a bigger emphasis on the passing game. But they don’t believe they need to restrict Peterson’s carries. Redskins coach Jay Gruden said "ideally it would be about 40," but he also suggested others could get some work. Certainly, Arizona coach Steve Wilks certainly doesn’t anticipate a watered-down Peterson.
“You may lose a step, you may lose some speed,” Wilks said, “but that inside determination is still there, so he’s going to run hard.”
Peterson’s only game work with the Redskins was 11 carries in the third preseason game against Denver, three days after signing.
“We know his history. He still has some speed; he still has power,” Jordan said. “He’s going to wear guys down to a certain degree. ... The first thing that goes for a running back is his vision. From the plays he ran against Denver, I was like, this guy still has pretty good vision. I don’t go in looking at numbers; I try to get a feel for the game and how he’s running and how everything’s being blocked and go from there.”
Jordan said Peterson is an old-fashioned note taker, eschewing the iPad in favor of plays printed on paper. He writes notes on the pages. For Peterson, the prep work also means work in the weight room. He said it might give him an extra “2 percent confidence.” He's looking for anything that makes a difference.
“He’s very detail-oriented. He wants to know why are we running this concept and what is the design of this play,” Jordan said. “He’s not just trying to memorize plays; he wants to know the reasoning and the schematics behind it.”
Peterson has been in Washington for only two weeks, so there’s plenty more to learn. For now, Jordan pointed to little areas in which he’s seen Peterson’s competitiveness. It’s subtle at times, such as the way he tells Jordan that he can do some things the coaches do with third-down back Chris Thompson.
“He wants to get his reps and he’s not about sharing reps with guys,” Jordan said. “But the biggest thing for him is where he is in his career. He’s hungry to prove something. A lot of times when that happens, when you get an athlete like that and he gets backed into a corner and people question his age, whatever it may be, that’s all they need.”