ASHBURN, Va. -- After his first preseason series with the Washington Redskins, running back Adrian Peterson retreated to the sideline and surprised Samaje Perine with what he did next: ask questions. Peterson, a future Hall of Famer, wanted to know from Perine, just starting his second season, if he’d made the right decision on a cut.
Perine wasn’t expecting the question, but he spit out a quick answer, telling him he had no choice but to cut outside the way he did. The moment stayed with Perine, however, and set a tone for Peterson’s stint with the Redskins.
“Just by him asking that, it made me think so much more of him as a guy and as a player,” said Perine, who like Peterson played in college at Oklahoma. “He’s still humble and still striving to be better, and even someone like me who’s only in the league for a year, for him to come back and ask me … it made me admire him so much more.”
Peterson’s impact on the field clearly can be seen. He’s ninth in the NFL with 432 yards rushing, and seven of the backs ahead of Peterson have played seven games -- one more than Washington. In the Redskins' four wins, he’s averaged 103 yards rushing.
But Peterson’s influence extends beyond his numbers. The Redskins’ backs, a tight-knit group before and after Peterson arrived, see it in the meeting room and on the practice field.
“It caught a lot of people off guard,” Redskins running back Chris Thompson said. “It did with me for sure. It caught the trainers off guard. One of them said to me the other day they didn’t expect him to be the way he is; he’s so easy to work with. You’d think some Hall of Famers may come in like, ‘I’m AP; you can’t tell me anything.’ It was never like that with him.”
The quick-footed Thompson has developed into a patient runner. Now Thompson, who constantly analyzes his own game, wonders if he's sometimes too patient after watching Peterson.
“He’s seeing everything so quick that he’s able to play super fast, and as a group we can learn from that,” Thompson said. “There are certain runs where I take my time or I’m real under control, whereas he’ll do something full speed and he’s hitting holes quicker, and I’m taking my time and getting caught.”
Redskins running backs coach Randy Jordan said Peterson brought “street cred” to Washington because of his résumé. He’s now 26 yards from passing Tony Dorsett to become the NFL’s ninth all-time leading rusher. Peterson understands what he can offer.
“It all comes with the territory,” said Peterson, 33. “You have a guy who has accomplished some great things so far in this league, and to see him running extra gassers or in the weight room lifting or practicing 100 miles an hour, it could be motivating. It would be for me if I was on the other side.”
It’s not as if the other backs didn’t already work hard. There’s a reason Thompson has become one of the NFL’s best third-down backs. But Peterson is on a different level. He’s genetically blessed, but his approach maximizes whatever he sees as his gifts.
“The biggest thing is … attention to detail in terms of footwork, his tracks, wanting to know the why,” Jordan said. “Young guys want to memorize a play, but they don’t want to know the why yet. ‘Why this running play? Why the footwork that way?’ [Peterson is] asking that, ‘OK, if we change our track, maybe that gives us a better angle in the run play.’ Those are things you don’t think as a young back.”
The Redskins hope it helps rookie Derrius Guice, too, as he recovers from knee surgery. Guice has been in Louisiana for a couple of weeks, but he had been in meetings previously and will be again when he returns. When he’s around, he’ll see Peterson get corrected in practice just like the other backs -- about his balance or hand placement in a blocking drill.
“That’s the thing: He’s always been one wanting to get coached,” Jordan said. “He says, ‘Coach, I still want to get coached.’”
And he still wants to share. When Peterson comes off the field during games, he’ll talk with the backup running backs, whether they’re active that game or not. The other backs feel free to give feedback unprompted.
“So many occasions when he comes off the field and says, ‘Remember to trust your eyes. Go out and do you and ball out,’” Redskins running back Kapri Bibbs said. “You can tell he goes out and trusts his eyes and balls out, and you go in there and want to do the same thing for yourself. You don’t second-guess; you believe in yourself because he’s looking at you smack dab in the eye. I get that connection from him. He’s genuine. He knows.”
He's also sharing wisdom about taking care of his body, showing how a player can last at a tough position into his 30s. One day, for example, Peterson showed up with a compression boot for his ankle. It’s filled with water to keep it cold. Jordan noticed Peterson kept pushing buttons on the side of the boot to inflate and then deflate, so it goes from being compression to taking the pressure away.
“He’s like the go-to gadget guy,” Jordan said. “He has stuff for his shoulder and his body. Different things he’s drinking. The joke was Adrian Peterson has stuff that ain’t even been invited yet because he’s AP.”
But it became another lesson for the other backs.
“It makes you be like, ‘Man this is a true pro right here,’” Bibbs said. “He’s the GOAT, man.”