EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- As Adrian Peterson returned to Minnesota last week in advance of the Vikings' voluntary minicamp, he had little doubt about the ways and the degree to which his role in the team's offense was about to change.
Both new coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner had talked about wanting to get Peterson more involved in the passing game. Turner's history -- 17 seasons of 40 catches or more by a running back on teams where he was either the head coach or offensive coordinator -- made that point even clearer. So when Peterson dialed up the Vikings' new playbook on his iPad, he wasn't surprised to see how much different things were about to look.
"I've been in the league for eight years. I've caught a lot of passes," Peterson said. "I just haven't had an offense that really distributes the ball to the running back a lot. That will change, for sure."
It will be interesting to see how deeply the Vikings involve Peterson in the passing game, considering how rarely he's been used in that capacity through his first eight seasons with the Vikings. He's had just three seasons of more than 30 catches, and the only ones in which he gained more than 300 receiving yards came in 2009 and 2010 with Brett Favre -- long a champion of throwing to running backs -- as his quarterback.
Peterson will have some rough edges to clean up in his own right. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he's dropped 8.6 percent of the passes targeted to him since 2007. That's the third-highest drop rate of any running back targeted with 150 or more throws during that time, indicating Peterson will have work to do if he wants to become a reliable receiver. And as good as he's been at gaining yards after contact in the running game, he hasn't been as adept at breaking tackles when catching passes; he's averaged only 1.5 yards after contact per reception in his career, That's only the 23rd-best average in the league since 2007, well behind running backs such as Ray Rice and Arian Foster, who have made catching the ball out of the backfield a key part of their games.
The prospect of putting Peterson in open space, letting him gain his yards by eluding cornerbacks instead of withstanding linemen and reducing the number of hits he takes is a tempting idea, though -- so much so that Peterson sounded willing to trade some carries for receptions when discussing it Thursday.
"You can kind of balance it out. If you're getting eight to 10 catches -- that's a pretty high number, I would think -- it'll kind of balance out," he said. "The rushing yards might not be up to par, but it's not about that. It's all about winning. I'm trying to win a championship, so if that's taking less of a pounding and being more productive in the pass game, I'm all in for it."
Even if he doesn't buy the theory that running backs are bound to slow down in their late 20s, Peterson admitted to feeling urgency at age 29. In all likelihood, he'll spend the most productive years he has left with Zimmer and Turner, who plan to use him in a different way. If Peterson can use the shift to prolong his productivity and get closer to a title, he's got every reason to be on board.
"When [Turner] was in San Diego and Cleveland, he always found a way to get the running back out in space. So, I knew once we hired him that will be something would new for me. I'm pretty excited about that.”