MINNEAPOLIS -- The drill, as Adrian Peterson's trainer James Cooper described it, amounted to third-grade tumbling. It was meant to be simple. Yet for his star pupil, Cooper knew it would not be.
The very things that make Peterson a once-in-a-generation running back -- his chiseled physique, his furious running style and his disdain for levels lower than full throttle -- were what made the drill Cooper assigned the running back on this sweltering July day so frustrating.
Adapted from Brazilian jiu-jitsu, the exercise required the Peterson and his workout partner, San Diego Chargers running back Melvin Gordon, to carry a football as they rolled themselves over a balance ball, regain their balance and sprint barefoot across a mat in Peterson's gym in Houston. It was meant to ingrain the gracefulness, fluidity and body control necessary to turn would-be tacklers into stooges, and five-yard gains into highlight runs. Yet while Gordon somersaulted smoothly over the ball, Peterson charged it like a defender he was ready to flatten, laughing at himself as he crashed to the ground while his momentum sent the ball skittering away.
"This drill busts his butt every time," Cooper said, "because he doesn't run like this. He's used to running a certain way, so this gets him out of it. That's why this is so dynamic: It makes an old dog have to learn new tricks."
It was also a vivid depiction of why Peterson, admittedly, has been at odds with running out of the shotgun. He's been able to build the bulk of his Hall of Fame resume on handoffs from a quarterback under center; Peterson has logged 2,257 such carries in his career, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and has averaged 4.95 yards per attempt, accounting for 11,204 of his yards and 94 of his touchdowns. But when asked to line up next to the quarterback, Superman becomes Clark Kent: Peterson has logged only 115 shotgun carries in his career, for 461 yards and three touchdowns, and his nine pistol attempts -- all of which came in his last two full seasons -- went for just 10 yards.
Peterson logged a career-high 32 carries out of the shotgun last year, and five more out of the pistol, as the Minnesota Vikings tried to bring him back from his 2014 suspension in an attack that had been adapted to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's strengths. The team quickly scrapped that plan, though, giving Peterson just 19 shotgun handoffs after Week 2. It wasn't as if the return to familiar territory didn't work; Peterson led the league with 1,485 rushing yards, accounting for a greater percentage of his team's offensive output than any other player in the NFL, and helped the Vikings win the NFC North for the first time since 2009.
Still, after a wild-card playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the running back admitted he needed to be more versatile. Traditionally an infrequent participant in organized team activities, Peterson showed up on the first day of OTAs as the Vikings renewed their efforts to improve his compatibility with Bridgewater. And while Peterson won't play in the preseason again this year, he said Thursday he's done enough work in the shotgun to get a better feel for the running style -- and even come to enjoy it.
"Just being more patient, that's always been the main thing," Peterson said. "I've been able, I feel, to conquer that now. I feel real comfortable taking runs out of the shotgun, and I'm liking it more. I was always against running out of the shotgun, but now that I've kind of switched and tweaked my way of approaching it, things are working out good.
"I'm sure the majority of [the unsuccessful shotgun runs] were because of me, being impatient and being too fast. But that's in the past."
Coach Mike Zimmer seemed to think the I formation will probably always be where Peterson does his best work, and the Vikings will likely incorporate plenty of the running back's old favorites in 2016.
"Sometimes that [shotgun] play develops a little bit slower than some of the hardball runs," Zimmer said. "So, when they’re double-teaming guys, they stay on, stay on, stay on, and the cut might happen a little bit later than typically you see it coming downhill."
But when Bridgewater took 369 of his 469 dropbacks out of the shotgun in 2014, and had just 373 of 519 a year ago, it's not hard to see the quarterback had to change to accommodate the running back.
That probably isn't the most sustainable way forward for the Vikings' offense, not when they want their 23-year-old passer to take charge of the offense. Peterson knows it, too, and when he has a quarterback he believes could lead the Vikings to their long-sought Super Bowl berth, the 31-year-old running back is trying to adapt.
"I know it's going to help us out in the long run, accomplishing what we want to accomplish, being able to present different looks to the defense," Peterson said. "That's what I'm really excited about."