MANKATO, Minn. -- With a smile on his face and a helmet on his head, Adrian Peterson joined the Minnesota Vikings for the first day of training camp determined to put two troubling issues behind him -- his problems holding on to the football and his decision to skip a mandatory minicamp back in June.
The Vikings opened training camp on Friday, the first time Peterson has been in uniform with the team since early June. The star running back angered coach Brad Childress later in the month when he blew off the mandatory minicamp to attend Adrian Peterson Day festivities in his hometown of Palestine, Texas.
He also spent almost all the offseason working out in Houston rather than at the Vikings facility, a change from his first three years in the NFL. That led some to speculate that he was unhappy with his contract, which will pay him about $19 million over the next two years if he hits all of the deal's escalators.
But Peterson said his absence had nothing to do with finances. He said his hometown celebration was planned before he learned the dates of the minicamp.
"I'm happy with my contract," Peterson said. "I'm here in training camp working out and getting ready for the season. That's my focus."
Childress, who didn't hide his disappointment when asked about it in June, said the two met and aired out their differences. He called the issue "water under the bridge" and staunchly defended Peterson when questions of his fumbling came up at his press conference.
"Adrian Peterson is a tremendous football player," Childress said. "I know we picked like we do during the draft at weaknesses, but by anybody's measure in this league and in history, he's had three exceptional years. There's a reason you look at a highlight film and so much of it is Adrian Peterson, because he's a hell of a talent."
Peterson has been one of the most productive running backs in the league since he was chosen seventh overall in the 2007 draft, rushing for 4,484 yards and 40 touchdowns.
But Peterson also leads the league in fumbles over that span, putting the ball on the ground 20 times and losing 13 of them. It was a nightmare for him in the NFC title game against the New Orleans Saints, when a superb 122-yard, three-touchdown effort was overshadowed by two fumbles in a game the Vikings eventually lost in overtime. Peterson also could have been charged with another one on a botched handoff near the goal line just before halftime.
"What I came up with is it's all mental," Peterson said. "Basically it's that simple. Just mentally being aware of my surroundings at all times. Knowing guys are definitely throwing those extra punches to knock it out it at all times."
It puts the Vikings in a tough spot. Even when quarterback Brett Favre is on the field, Peterson is still the focal point of their offense. He is the kind of back that gets better as the game goes on, wearing down opponents with a bruising, ferocious running style that is predicated in part on high-volume carries.
The team has looked at several options to help their workhorse back get it together. They have consulted Giants coach Tom Coughlin and former running back Tiki Barber, who battled fumbling problems early in his career before solving it by changing the way he carries the ball.
"I don't want to change the way he runs with the football," Childress said. "You can't play that position and be cautious. He is a violent, reckless running back.
"In football sometimes the ball comes loose. Do I like it? No. Am I going to tolerate it? No. We are going to emphasize it and usually you achieve what you emphasize."
The issue comes up often, but Peterson said he can handle the negativity.
"Actually this offseason I got away. Tried to stay away from NFL Network and ESPN," he said. "But it doesn't bother me at all. I'm the only one that can do something about it."
Minnesota could rely even more heavily on Peterson's broad shoulders this season after veteran backup Chester Taylor departed for the Chicago Bears. Taylor was the third-down back and excelled in the receiving game and in pass protection.
The Vikings drafted Stanford's Toby Gerhart in the second round, but asking a rookie to take on the complex tasks of picking up blitzes and catching passes out of the backfield may be a little too much this early in his career.
"With Chester being gone, he was a big part of our offense," Peterson said. "It's up to me to grab and take care of and that's what I'm going to do."