- Ben Goessling, ESPN Staff Writer
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MANKATO, Minn. -- If there's been one thing to quibble with in Adrian Peterson's game over his seven seasons in Minnesota, it might be his pass protection. Peterson has long been seen as a poor protector, to the point where the Vikings have limited his third-down snaps and designated the task of blitz pickups to other running backs on their roster.
Peterson has been in the bottom half of the league in Pro Football Focus' Pass Blocking Efficiency metric for running backs each of the last three seasons, ranking 29th among the 54 running backs who played at least 25 percent of their team's passing snaps last season. Toby Gerhart, who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the offseason, finished 13th last season, and while Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata can fill some of Gerhart's role, Peterson doesn't want to be excluded from the mix. He's argued for a larger role on third downs, and the Vikings plan to make him a bigger part of the passing game means he'll probably end up in more situations where he's asked to stay in and protect, or at least chip a defender on his way out of the backfield.
If the Vikings handle it the right way, offensive coordinator Norv Turner said, Peterson can actually be an effective pass blocker.
"He is an outstanding pass protector when you keep him in his element," Turner said. "We don't want him blocking defensive ends. We don't want him blocking 280-pound outside linebackers. When he's blocking the people he should be blocking, he's very good in pass protection."
Turner said Peterson's third-down role is "yet to be determined," adding the Vikings could use Asiata or McKinnon on third downs if Peterson is logging plenty of carries on first and second down. Given the degree to which the Vikings have talked about limiting the stress on Peterson's body, it's unlikely they're going to expose him to a great deal of extra contact as a pass protector. But, as Turner said, "you'd like his presence out there" on third downs, and a Vikings offense that has Peterson on the field is simply more dangerous than one that doesn't. If the Vikings can be smart with Peterson in pass protection and find ways to give him more playing time on third downs, it opens up more options for their entire offense. It stands to reason they'll explore those options during the next few weeks.