NFC North: Eric Sugarman

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The final decision about whether Adrian Peterson will play on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles did not come on Friday. It will come on Saturday or Sunday, and it will be made by head coach Leslie Frazier and trainer Eric Sugarman, with input from the running back on how he feels after working out Saturday.

Here's the dilemma they're likely to face: They have the reigning league MVP, a week removed from suffering a foot injury that has sidelined many of his peers for games at a time. They're mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but a couple wins in the final three games of the season could go a long way toward saving Frazier's job. And they're likely to get a strong -- make that vehement -- suggestion from the MVP that he can and should play on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Adam Bettcher/Getty ImagesWill star RB Adrian Peterson be able to play Sunday despite his foot injury? Teammate Toby Gerhart seems to think so. "He's Superman," Gerhart said.
"We've been down this road before, where we had to go work him out the day of a game," Frazier said. "He's amazing when it comes to recovering from injuries. He's so different. He doesn't like to sit. He believes he's more than capable of getting out there, and he'll let you know."

Does any of this sound familiar?

The Vikings were in a similar position late in the 2010 season, when they'd listed Brett Favre as out for a Monday night game against the Chicago Bears with a sprained shoulder. The Vikings were 5-8 headed into the game, and Frazier had yet to have the interim tag removed from his title. Favre was upgraded to questionable before the game, and wound up starting before sustaining a concussion at TCF Bank Stadium on what turned out to be the final play of his career.

The Ol' Gunslinger's name even came up on Friday when Peterson was talking about his own resolve to play.

"We didn't get into depth about it, but it was easy for me to see with Favre," Peterson said. "He's strong mentally. I've seen him take brutal beatings in games, and he continues to get right back up and throw the ball and throw punches. That's the type of mentality you've got to have to play in this league -- and be great."

Peterson, like Favre, is supremely confident in his ability to beat the healing curve. He's proven that before now, as Favre had many times in his career before that Monday night game, and in Favre's case -- as in Peterson's -- the Vikings were playing a division-leading opponent with whom they'd undoubtedly match up better with their former MVP on the field.

That's bound to be quite the temptation for Frazier, but the difference between Peterson and Favre is the future; Peterson is signed through 2017, while Favre was at the end of the road. Foot injuries can be chronic problems for running backs, as ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell pointed out this week, and if there's any risk of him hurting his foot even more, that should put an even greater burden of proof on the Vikings to deem Peterson fit to play.

On Friday, Frazier almost sounded grateful for the ability to let medical professionals weigh in on the situation.

"You listen to the players, for sure," he said. "You listen to what they say about their bodies. But there's a reason we have a medical staff in place, to decipher what's the best thing to do, and also what we've seen. If we do decide to work him out prior to the game, that'll be part of the evaluation as well."

As Peterson proved emphatically during his 2,097-yard comeback tour from a torn ACL last year, he's not normal when it comes to injuries. He heals faster, tolerates more pain and does more work to recover than most, and all that will play in his favor as he argues to play this weekend.

"He's Superman," said running back Toby Gerhart, who is also pushing to play Sunday after straining his right hamstring in the Ravens game. "As long as there isn't any kryptonite around, I think he'll be alright."

What the Vikings need to determine is whether a more significant foot injury could in fact be Peterson's kryptonite, whether it's worth letting him try once again to leap medical standards in a single bound and whether their own temptation to play him -- which is sure to be strong -- must be checked against the risk of further issues with their franchise player's foot.

All that makes the Vikings' decision a tricky one, especially when one possible avenue involves trying to convince the game's best running back he shouldn't try to help an embattled coaching staff win a game.

"You don't want to see regression," Frazier said. "You want to see him keep improving, to the point where he's comfortable, we're comfortable. That will be the biggest indicator."
Brett FavreAP Photo/Andy KingBrett Favre's career ended on the frozen fields of TCF Bank Stadium during the 2010 season.
Editor’s note: ESPN.com revisits the NFL’s most interesting teams since Y2K with a five-part “Most Compelling Teams of the Century” series. We continue with the 2010 Minnesota Vikings.

Brett Favre retired and then he really retired and then three Minnesota Vikings teammates lassoed him on his Mississippi farm and he agreed to do them a "favor" and then suddenly he was old and slow and a sitting duck and the subject of off-field accusations and finally, no longer the Iron Man of football. Sidney Rice had a minor hip injury and major hip surgery and then fumed amid questions about his condition so the Vikings tried to trade for Vincent Jackson and then got the cockeyed idea of acquiring Randy Moss who caught 13 passes in four games and clashed with coach Brad Childress and finally got himself cut a few hours before Childress told reporters Moss was still a Viking. Percy Harvin was Moss' best friend on the team and never forgave Childress and later in the season had to be held back from fighting him during practice. Childress was fired and Leslie Frazier was the coach when the Metrodome roof collapsed under heavy snow and the Vikings played home games in Detroit and on a frozen field at TCF Bank Stadium on which Favre made a final surprise start before taking a concussed sendoff.

And … breathe.

That's what the Vikings' season felt like for those who spent time around it: One soap-opera installment after another in run-on, never-ending fashion. It was so wild that no one blinked when another snowstorm forced a three-night stay in Philadelphia for a Week 16 game ultimately played on a Tuesday night. Naturally, the Vikings managed a 24-14 upset of the playoff-bound Eagles, led by a quarterback, Joe Webb, who had been drafted eight months earlier as a receiver.

I remember waking up early on Dec. 12, 2010. I figured it would take a while to clear the exceptionally heavy and wet snow that began falling the previous evening, and I wanted to be done in time to start blogging by midmorning. Before heading outside, I took a quick look at Twitter. Several local news stations had posted photos of the stadium roof collapse, which had occurred overnight.

It was about 6:30 a.m. CT. I texted ESPN colleague Ed Werder, who as it turned out was in Minneapolis to chronicle what would ultimately be the first game Favre had missed in two decades.

"That's a joke, right?" Werder replied.

Nope, I said. Welcome to the 2010 Minnesota Vikings.

Surreal. Theater of the Absurd. Unprecedented. I had used those descriptions and others throughout the year, often as they related to Favre. It began in late July of that year, when he told Childress he wouldn't play in 2010. No one believed him. About midway through training camp, reports surfaced that he would remain retired rather than rejoin the team after camp, as he had in 2009. No one believed him.

In fact, no one believed Favre until the team broke camp, and he still hadn't joined the team. Childress panicked. He sent three key players in owner Zygi Wilf's jet to talk Favre into playing, all while ducking the media and instructing two assistants to lie about the players' whereabouts. It wasn't until 30 minutes before Wilf's plane was scheduled to depart that Favre finally relented, agreeing, in his word, to do the Vikings a "favor."

Right away, it was clear that the magic of 2009 -- Favre had arguably the best season of his career in leading the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game -- was gone. Favre was using lubricant injections to limit discomfort in his troublesome ankles, and he threw almost as many interceptions (six) in the Vikings' first three games as he did in all 16 games of 2009 combined (seven).

Something needed to be done. Rice had been his favorite receiver in 2009, and the Vikings didn't seem to trust his commitment to returning. Jackson and the San Diego Chargers were in a contract stalemate, and the Vikings worked for a week to complete a trade before declining the Chargers' steep asking price.

That brought them to Moss, who the franchise had already fired once. Moss had worn out welcomes in Oakland and New England since then, and the match seemed poor from the start. Childress was a strict disciplinarian, both on personal comportment and scheme, and Moss had never been much of a conformist. It was a connection made by the gods of the unemployment line. I was flabbergasted to learn the two didn't speak before the trade. One conversation would have been enough to scuttle it.

Moss cost the Vikings a third-round draft choice. He made no impact on the offense, floored Childress with typically salty demeanor and in his final act, conducted a question and answer session with himself because he was upset about media complaints that had led to a $25,000 NFL fine.

Childress cut him the day after his fourth game with the team, a 28-18 loss to the Patriots in which Favre had been carted off the field, nearly unconscious, after a hit below the chin.

There was one problem, however. Childress had passed over the tiny detail of informing owner Zygi Wilf before executing the move. He got caught lying to reporters about it a few hours later, telling them he expected Moss back with the team in two days even as media reports confirming Moss' demise were surfacing.

Childress was cracking. Favre was playing -- heroically or stupidly? -- on a fractured foot and, at one point, paraded through the locker room with a protective boot in full view of reporters. Deadspin.com reported that he had texted inappropriate photographs to a woman who worked for the New York Jets in 2008, bringing Favre to tears during a pregame address to his teammates.

A month after firing Moss, Childress himself was fired after the Vikings' sideline erupted in dysfunction during a 31-3 home loss to the Green Bay Packers. That came shortly after Harvin exploded in practice when Childress questioned the severity of an injury. How quickly had Childress flamed out? His dismissal came one year after he signed a three-year contract extension.

By the time the Metrodome roof decided it had had enough, Favre was taking more direct hits than at any time in his career. It was sad, really, watching a once-elusive athlete absorb so much punishment. In Week 13, he suffered a sprained sternoclavicular joint after Buffalo Bills linebacker Arthur Moats slammed him to the turf.

Backup Tarvaris Jackson was preparing to start the following week against the Giants when the roof collapsed. Two days later, we all jumped on planes to cover the "home game" in Detroit at Ford Field. Favre stood on the sidelines wearing a stocking cap indoors and seemed relieved that his streak of 297 consecutive starts had ended. With three weeks remaining in the season, and Favre telling everyone who would listen that he couldn't feel his right hand, it seemed clear he would never play again.

That is, until the morning of Dec. 20. Snow was in the forecast, and the Vikings' final "home" game was scheduled for "Monday Night Football" against the Chicago Bears at the outdoor TCF Bank Stadium. Favre telephoned athletic trainer Eric Sugarman and, later, Frazier. Would the NFL allow him to play after the team had already ruled him out on the injury report?

Why yes, it would. Was there really any other answer for the 2010 Minnesota Vikings? Favre took a few warm-up throws in the snow and decided he wanted one last hurrah. This was an NFL game, not a reality television show, but it felt more like the latter. He played into the second quarter before Bears defensive end Corey Wootton slammed him to the frozen turf.

(As you might recall, Vikings punter Chris Kluwe got his start as a rabble-rouser that week by tweeting his concerns about the frozen turf, which had no heating coils under it and clearly posed a danger to players.)

Favre recently said he felt like an "idiot" for playing in the game, as he recounted the resulting concussion. At one point, he said he asked Sugarman, "What are the Bears doing here?"

And that, my friends, is the most appropriate image I can recall of the 2010 Minnesota Vikings. One of the NFL's greatest players lying on the frozen turf of a college stadium, playing not because he could, but because he wanted to, asking why there was an opponent on the field. I mean, the only thing stranger would have been a local catering service gaining national attention after a player criticized its food. Oh, wait….

We noted earlier that Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder revealed this week that his right elbow contusion mysteriously returned a few weeks after the season (but before he declared himself fully healthy during a March interview).

In the video, Ponder provides a frenetic re-retelling of the events that led him to an emergency room, the initial fears of doctors and how athletic trainer Eric Sugarman convinced them to slow down on plans for immediate surgery. Ultimately, the injury resolved itself and Ponder is participating fully in the Vikings' offseason program.
PetersonBruce Kluckhohn/US PresswireVikings RB Adrian Peterson isn't playing like a guy who had major knee surgery in December 2011.
Six years ago, I spent some time with Adrian Peterson while working on a profile for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Our conversation turned to his career goals, and a relatively lighthearted conversation grew serious.

If he were an actor, I would guess Peterson was pausing for effect. In this case, however, I think he was just taking a moment to put his ambitions into words. Eventually, Peterson turned, looked me straight in the eye and said he wanted "to be the best player to ever play this game."

That mentality is, I think, an appropriate context with which to view his unprecedented return from major knee surgery. Peterson wasn't driven simply to resume his career as soon as possible after tearing the ACL and MCL in his left knee on Dec. 24, 2011. He wanted to do it more quickly, and with better immediate returns, than anyone in the history of the game.

There are no objective ways to judge that mission, given medical advances and variances in the timing of injuries. But with the help of several resources, including ESPN Stats & Information, I looked at a cross-section of running backs who have suffered at least a torn ACL over the past decade or so. The chart shows our results, and while you'll notice some nice production in the first post-injury season for several backs, each had a substantially longer recovery time than Peterson.


Less than 10 months after his injury, Peterson leads the NFL in both yardage (775) and yards per game (96.9) while ranking second in offensive touches (174). He has run with power, leading the league with 479 yards after first contact while forcing a league-high 28 missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. And he has been explosive, ripping off a league-high eight runs of at least 20 yards and breaking away for a 64-yard touchdown scamper last Thursday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"He's doing everything you would hope he could do," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. Indeed, I would suggest Peterson has re-written the protocol for returning from an injury that has been career-ending even in some recent cases.

For years, the adage for NFL running backs was that any production in the first year after an ACL injury was gravy. FootballDocs has a thorough examination (from a fantasy perspective.) The mid-1990s case of former Vikings tailback Terry Allen marked the first really effective and immediate return from an ACL injury, but it's worth noting Allen's occurred during a July 1993 practice, giving him a full calendar year to recover before putting together a 1,031-yard season in 1994.

Until recently, however, Allen's case had proved the exception. It was only 11 years ago, in fact, that Atlanta Falcons tailback Jamaal Anderson retired because of lingering impact from a 1999 injury. Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis, meanwhile, played two relatively unproductive seasons after tearing his ACL and MCL in 1999.

Medical advances have helped running backs resume their careers more regularly since then, and it's worth noting that Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis rushed for a combined 3,393 yards in his first two seasons back from an ACL injury. But like Allen, Lewis had a full 12 months to recover before resuming practice because the injury occurred during training camp in 2001.

Peterson, of course, had no such luxury after his injury occurred in Week 16 of the 2011 season. Yet he returned to the lineup, and played on more than half of the Vikings' offensive snaps, 260 days later. On the season, Peterson has played 70 percent of the Vikings' snaps and has appeared stronger with every week -- culminating in consecutive 100-yard games in Weeks 7 and 8.

"I said before I was at 100 percent, which I am," Peterson said recently. "But it's just so much more that I know is going to come. So each week, I feel myself getting better and just try to stay on path."

As a result, Peterson has outgained two other elite running backs who suffered ACL injuries last season. Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs, whose injury occurred three months before Peterson's, has 595 yards in seven games. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Rashard Mendenhall has returned to the field earlier this month after a January 2012 injury, but he is currently sidelined by an Achilles injury.

Documenting Peterson's production and putting it in perspective is easy. Explaining how it happened is much more difficult. As we've discussed, Peterson is as ambitious and competitive as they come. The Vikings have smartly limited the times he is asked to run laterally, directing 94.6 percent of his carries between the tackles, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Medical advances are making ACL rehabilitations more routine, and you can't discount the plan crafted by Vikings athletic trainer Eric Sugarman, who accommodated Peterson's wishes to do part of his rehab in Houston during the offseason.

A more detailed discussion is for another post, probably at the end of the season. For now, however, we can say that Adrian Peterson is on his way to being the best player to ever return to the game after suffering a catastrophic knee injury.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

It was a busy Tuesday at the Minnesota Vikings' training camp, from Adrian Peterson recounting a scary allergic reaction that landed him in the hospital and owner Zygi Wilf telling reporters that he wants to contend for the NFC North title. But the most significant event might have been the sprained MCL suffered by tight end John Carlson, an injury that will probably keep him from practicing for a few weeks.

(More from Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.)

Sprained knees are commonplace in the NFL, but it's particularly notable for Carlson because it extends a rough stretch of injuries that began in the 2010 playoffs. He suffered a serious concussion against the Chicago Bears in the divisional round while playing for the Seattle Seahawks, and then missed all of the 2011 season because of a shoulder injury.

The injuries aren't related, but when an oft-injured player suffers a new ailment early in training camp, it makes you wonder if he has simply hit a stretch of bad luck or if his body isn't holding up. Time will tell on that one.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Peterson said that he called athletic trainer Eric Sugarman when he began feeling ill Monday, and Sugarman soon administered an ephedrine shot to ease his breathing. More from Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • For what it's worth, I don't think Vikings coach Leslie Frazier needs to win the NFC North in order to retain his job. Wilf said he has "no benchmarks" for Frazier's continued employment, according to Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune, but said: "I expect to be division champs. I want to be able to fight for the division as we always do every year, and get better for years to come. That’s always been our goal. That’s been the goal since the first day I came here."
  • Detroit Lions running back Jahvid Best on his daily routine, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "Just waiting."
  • Lions place-kicker Jason Hanson was surprised and irritated when rookie kicker Derek Dimke referred to him as "sir" this summer, writes Rod Beard of the Detroit News.
  • Fullback James Bryant was ready to start hitting people when the Lions put full pads on, notes Justin Rogers of Mlive.com.
  • Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler appreciates that offensive coordinator Mike Tice has listened to some of his ideas, writes Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • The Bears are still about their defense, writes Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Tribune. Mulligan: "Fun as it may be to pretend the Bears are undergoing a sudden and violent insurrection on offense -- a quarterback-led coup featuring aerial strength, the marshaling of ground forces and (gasp) something called the audible -- the simple truth is the Bears require significantly less to be successful this season. Think evolution more than revolution."
  • New defensive lineman Brian Price struggled in his first practice with the Bears, according to Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Competition for the Green Bay Packers' right cornerback spot is fierce, confirms Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • The Packers are satisfied with their youth and depth at safety, writes Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Packers tight end Jermichael Finley said he suffered a concussion last Thursday when his helmet came off and he hit his chin on the ground. Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com has more.
The Minnesota Vikings' decision to place tailback Adrian Peterson on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list is the last predictable event in his recovery from a serious knee injury. Now it's time to start waiting for the real news to begin.

We knew when Peterson would start running again and when he would begin working on change-of-direction drills. It seemed a certainty that he would open training camp on the PUP list, a move that merely prevents him from getting involved in football drills he couldn't possibly be ready for given the timing of his late-December surgery.

What we don't know is how long it will take Peterson to close the gap between where he is now and the elusive football-ready condition. Players on the PUP can be activated any time between now and the start of Week 1, but if Peterson isn't activated by then, he'll be ineligible for the first six weeks of the season.

There is a general expectation that Peterson will be ready to practice by then, but it's impossible to predict the timing of what happens in between.

"We'll continue to evaluate him daily," coach Leslie Frazier told reporters, "see how he's progressing, and at some point, the doctors and our head trainer Eric Sugarman will come to me and say, 'Hey, we think he's ready to get involved in some team activities.' But at this point, we're going to go through some evaluations, just make a determination as to when is the right time to put him out there with his teammates."

Let the waiting game begin.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It would have been easy to miss from the far side of the Minnesota Vikings' practice field. But the rush of photographers and the sound of cameras clicking drew my eyes toward two of the NFL's most dynamic playmakers, who just so happened to be forging an impromptu competition during injury rehabilitation Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson and Percy Harvin
AP Photo/Genevieve RossRunning back Adrian Peterson, left, and receiver Percy Harvin spent time Wednesday racing up a hill.
As the Vikings' organized team activity continued around them, tailback Adrian Peterson and receiver Percy Harvin would jog the 50 yards or so from one sideline to the other before racing each other up a hill on the far side. Each of the 10 heats was tight, an especially impressive feat for Peterson about five months removed from major knee surgery. Harvin, who is recovering from minor shoulder surgery, acknowledged Peterson edged him twice.

(Here's some video of their rehabilitation time courtesy the Vikings' website.)

"We were racing the whole time," Harvin said. "He got me twice. I'm out here just to push AP. He's a very important part of this team, so we need him out there. The quicker we get him out here, the better."

Peterson has folded competition into his recovery on several occasions already, having also jumped into a post-workout set of sprints among Vikings players last month. He finished ahead of the group each time, and Harvin said he jokingly told those players they should be "embarrassed."

I'm guessing Harvin has a different view now after Wednesdays' battle with Peterson.

"I've been doing drills with AP since I've been here," Harvin said. "We did a couple drills in the sand pit yesterday. So I've been out there. He's amazing. I told him the other day that I don't think he's human."

Harvin said he hopes to begin practicing with the team next week. But the natural question is what this all means for Peterson's return date. Coverage of Peterson's competitive rehabilitation has been unusually public and thus has captured attention for a process that typically goes unnoticed in the NFL. But does it mean Peterson will beat the typical timetable for ACL/MCL tears and be in the starting lineup when the Vikings open the season in September?

The most coach Leslie Frazier would say is to acknowledge what athletic trainer Eric Sugarman told him about Wednesday's workout.

"[Sugarman] was telling me that they looked real good," Frazier said. "The good thing is those guys are competing, they push one another and that's good for us. Two great athletes like that pushing each other in competition in their rehab, that's a good thing."

Related: Peterson worked out in front of reporters this month, first in Minnesota and later in Houston for ESPN's Josina Anderson.
Adrian PetersonBrace Hemmelgarn/US PresswireWhile the Vikings keep focus on a roster rebuild, Adrian Peterson keeps focus on his rehabilitation.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- I joined a number of reporters Wednesday afternoon at the Minnesota Vikings' practice facility, where tailback Adrian Petersonwas scheduled to discuss the rehabilitation of his surgically-repaired left knee. On cue, Peterson popped his head through the door. With athletic trainer Eric Sugarman at his side, Peterson motioned for us to join him at the far end of the practice field.

For the next 15 minutes, Peterson demonstrated the extent of his progress by running two sets of sideline-to-sideline sprints. He performed a series of box jumps, moved laterally to catch a rolling soccer ball and ran tight circles around a wide hula hoop.

The scene was impressive for a player 19 weeks removed from tearing two ligaments in his knee. As he caught his breath afterwards, Peterson reiterated his intent to be ready for the Vikings' Week 1 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, by far the early side of the typical range for injuries as significant as his.

"People can say what they want to say," he said. "I've got my goals."

I felt conflicted watching Peterson work out and listening to his optimism. Part of me admired his intense desire to return ahead of schedule. The other part kept flashing back to the end of "Fargo."

And for what?

If it wasn't clear before, it should be obvious now. The Vikings have launched a full-scale roster rebuild that should better position them for the long-term but will almost certainly sacrifice the short-term to do it. The latest evidence was this week's decision to jettison still-reliable place-kicker Ryan Longwell for rookie Blair Walsh, perhaps the most extreme example of the team's systematic effort to make its roster younger.

A cynic might say the Vikings know they won't compete for an NFC North title in 2012, making this season as good of a time as any to break in a new place-kicker. Here's what general manager Rick Spielman said Wednesday:

"I think our emphasis has always been trying to get our team better, get it younger, and that's the direction we kind of went. It just fits in with everything else we’re kind of honed in on this offseason."

It's hard to argue with that approach after a 9-23 record over the past two seasons. But as we first discussed last fall, it threatens to nullify the prime of one of the NFL's best players.

Peterson is 27 and has taken the pounding of five professional seasons. By the standards of NFL running backs, at least, the clock on his career is already ticking. It's more than reasonable to wonder what type of performer he will be when the Vikings see the fruit of their rebuilding project.

I asked Peterson what he thought of the Vikings' offseason approach, and he focused mostly on praising Spielman's draft. Peterson also admitted that "the biggest part of my motivation" to return in Week 1 is because "I know how much I mean to this organization." He added: "I want to be out there helping my team and organization accomplish the ultimate goal."

Even with Peterson in the starting lineup, the Vikings figure to have new starters at 11 positions in 2012 in addition to an unproven second-year quarterback in Christian Ponder. In all likelihood, it will be a year measured by progress, not playoff contention.

I'm not going to suggest the Vikings should hold Peterson out of the lineup once he's medically cleared. But in the big picture, there seems to be every reason to take it as slow as possible. If Peterson can avoid some wear and tear during a rebuilding season, wouldn't that help the Vikings in the long-term?

That's a cold and calculated analysis that isn't likely to apply in this case. Neither the Vikings nor Peterson should time his rehabilitation progress based on the projected competitiveness of the team. NFL teams are expected to compete with all available resources at all times. It's not for Peterson to "save" himself for future seasons. The timing is what it is.

The best thing Peterson can do in the short-term is help this team squeeze out a few more victories than it appears capable of while imposing his fanatical work ethic on others. He seems to understand that as well. During rehabilitation a few weeks ago, Peterson noticed some teammates running sprints. Sugarman gave him permission to join them. He wiped out the field.

"Those guys got an understanding of 'Hey, he's really pushing hard to get back out to a level better than he played at before' and it was even more motivation for those guys," Peterson said. "It was like, 'Hey he's out here four months and he's beating us.' Maybe we need to do something different."

Knowing Adrian Peterson, he'll do everything he can to will the Vikings to more success than expected in 2012. It's reasonable to question whether it will be enough, and to wonder how long it will take the rest of this roster to catch up. Will Adrian Peterson be this generation's Barry Sanders? Is he a Hall of Fame player whose career window doesn't match up with his team's window for winning? That's what it feels like at the moment.

Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson appeared in public Friday for the first time since suffering a significant left knee injury Dec. 24. The big takeaway: Peterson has set a personal goal of recovering in time to play in the first game of the 2012 season.

Peterson, of course, is only two weeks removed from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament; he also tore the medial collateral ligament. That puts us awfully early in the process toward projecting his return, and athletic trainer Eric Sugarman told reporters: "We're not in a race. We're not going to rush him."

Whenever he returns, Peterson pledged to be stronger than ever.

"I know that anything I put my mind to," Peterson said, "I'm going to be able to accomplish. I feel like I'm going to come back better than before. I know people might laugh at that or think otherwise. But you know what? It doesn't matter what they think or how they feel about it."

Video of the entire 23-minute news conference is available on the Vikings' web site.

Speed, power and Adrian Peterson

December, 26, 2011
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In news conferences Monday, Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman both expressed hope that tailback Adrian Peterson can return from a serious knee injury sometime early in the 2012 season. It's an optimistic timetable given Peterson's position and his injury, which includes two torn ligaments and some other damage, but the Vikings believe his history of quick recoveries and work ethic gives him a legitimate chance to hit that goal.

Whether Peterson returns in Week 1 or Week 4 or at midseason in 2012, the question most fans have is what type of player he will be at that point. We obviously can't begin to assess that question, not with surgery still a week or more away and with many, many interim points of progress to hit first.

What we can do, however, is recognize that Peterson has already begun an evolution from the rare breakaway threat he was as a rookie to a more traditional between-the-tackles runner. That's not at all surprising for an NFL running back after nearly five years of wear and tear, and in a perverse way it offers hope for his future production levels.

Check out the chart accompanying this post. Peterson had 31 rushes of 20 or more yards in his first two seasons. Over the next three, he has 28. Obviously his carries have decreased in every year as well, but generally speaking that's not a surprising trend.

So what does this mean? If you're worried that this injury will rob Peterson of his breakaway speed, well, the fact is he has been going down that road already for the past few years and has still been a highly productive runner. The real concern is if Peterson will regain the strength he needs to be the power runner he was already becoming. Take that for what it's worth.

BBAO: Training camp in a month?

June, 27, 2011
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

Imagine this: If all goes as planned, at least one NFC North training camp will be underway one month from today.

The Chicago Bears are scheduled to begin practice at Olivet Nazarene University on July 23, and the rest of the division would open camps by the end of the following week. It's all contingent, of course, on the NFL agreeing to a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with its players soon and the lockout being lifted by early July. It would be a tight timetable but would probably allow for a week or so of free agency before the Bears report to camp.

Two NFL teams, the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets, have already canceled plans for off-site training camps because of lockout uncertainty. The Bears apparently face no deadlines along those lines, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.

The Minnesota Vikings, the other NFC North team with an off-site training camp, have said they will inform Minnesota State University, Mankato, of their plans by July 15.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune profiles Ed McCaskey, 24, grandson of the former Bears chairman and a media relations manager for an independent league baseball team.
  • Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy will speak at a Fayetteville, N.C., sports banquet Monday at the request of longtime NFL assistant Jimmy Raye. Earl Vaughn Jr. of the Fayetteville Observer has more.
  • Packers fans are rallying around former player Fuzzy Thurston, who is selling his Super Bowl II ring to pay back taxes. Scott Venci of the Green Bay Press-Gazette has the story.
  • Detroit Lions guard Rob Sims is talking playoffs, via Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press: "I agree. I think it's time. I don't think it's premature. I think we put the work in last year and went through the bumps. We took the licks that we needed to take last year. It is time for us to think that way. It's time for us to get ready to play that way. Attitude is everything. If you set those goals high, you can reach those goals."
  • Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder will wrap up his work at the IMG Academy this week, notes Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
  • Michael Rand of the Star Tribune profiles Matt Mitrione, a former Vikings player who is now a prominent mixed martial arts fighter.
  • Vikings athletic trainer Eric Sugarman is a member of the Hazleton (Pa.) Area Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2011.

Favre warms up amid sledgehammers

December, 20, 2010
12/20/10
6:31
PM ET
Brett FavreAP Photo/Hannah FoslienMinnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre took a few warm-up snaps on the TCF Bank field a few hours before the game.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Just returned from my third and final trip to the field at TCF Bank Stadium. A few observations:

  • Quarterback Brett Favre took the field shortly after 6 p.m. ET to begin lightly throwing and testing the sprained SC joint near his right shoulder. Favre threw at intervals of 10 and 15 yards, throwing harder than he did 10 days ago in his last practice appearance but not nearly as hard as he would need to for a game. Athletic trainer Eric Sugarman, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers were all in attendance. If Favre plays Monday night, it won’t be based on the throwing session I watched.
  • There are absolutely some icy parts of the field. As I watched Favre, several members of the grounds crew were using sledgehammers to try to break up a patch of ice about five yards away from the sideline.
  • The field itself is not frozen but is definitely hard. I’m not sure what this means, but snowplows are kicking up the rubber portions of the Field Turf that are in place to soften the material. The snow piles surrounding the perimeter of the field have turned gray because they have so many rubber bits embedded in them.
  • The Vikings will have to declare Favre’s status around 7 p.m. ET.
  • Entrance of fans into the stadium has been orderly. From what I can see, the bleacher seats have several inches of snow piled on them.

FavreWatch: Seriously?

December, 20, 2010
12/20/10
1:52
PM ET
Yes, it's true that the Minnesota Vikings upgraded quarterback Brett Favre from "out" to "questionable" for Monday night's game against the Chicago Bears.

Yes, I was mistaken on Twitter early Monday. There is no NFL rule preventing teams from classifying a player as out -- which, by definition means they have zero percent chance of playing two days before kickoff -- and then adjusting the dial to questionable on game day. The NFL's communications office has straightened me out on that one. The ability to make that kind of move further undermines what is already a shaky system for reporting injuries, but that's for another day.

Now, to the issue at hand. Could Favre really play in this game? Is this a last-minute decision to manufacture some kind of competitive advantage over the Bears? Or, more sinisterly, is it an avenue for the Vikings to give Favre a career sendoff with some kind of ceremonial snap before giving way to rookie Joe Webb?

Here are the facts:
  1. Favre hasn't thrown since spraining his SC joint Dec. 5 against the Buffalo Bills. In a number of media interviews, Favre -- the man who refused to sit for 297 consecutive games over 18 years-- strongly suggested his career was over.
  2. Favre attempted to throw before Saturday's practice, but coach Leslie Frazier said: "That shoulder and arm is not quite where it needs to be, so he definitely won't participate on Monday night." Frazier said there was some lessening in the numbness in Favre's right hand, but that his condition was "just not enough where you could put him out to play."
  3. In a carefully orchestrated series of events, the Vikings notified several media outlets that Favre had been upgraded. In a statement posted at about the same time on the team website, athletic trainer Eric Sugarman made this claim: "Brett Favre attempted to throw the football two days ago and was unable to, due to pain in the SC joint and residual numbness from a brachial plexus injury. He declared himself out at that time. He woke up this morning feeling much improved. His symptoms and function have improved dramatically over the past 24 hours. In fairness to him and his team, he would like to be given the opportunity to play tonight if physically able."
  4. The Vikings also announced they had promoted practice squad quarterback R.J. Archer to the active roster and placed guard Steve Hutchinson on injured reserve. That means the Vikings have four quarterbacks on their 53-man roster for Monday night's game.
  5. Favre is expected to throw about 2 1/2 hours before game time to gauge how much progress has been made, according to the Vikings.

I freely admit this turn of events has left me nearly at a loss for words.

It's hard to believe that any NFL franchise, even one that has been caught on the wrong side of the truth-o-meter several times this season, would find it worth its time to orchestrate a charade of this magnitude. The Vikings have been caught up in nostalgia this week as they celebrate their 50th anniversary, but a ceremonial farewell that impacts the actual game and roster management is almost unheard-of in the NFL.

Frazier has proved to be an honest and dignified man during his tenure as a head coach. Remember, just two days ago, Frazier said: "He definitely won't participate on Monday night." There was no ambiguity in those words. I really want to take Frazier at his word.

But on the other hand, it's no less difficult to believe that even Favre -- the bionic man of football -- could have made such a quick physical and mental turnaround over the past 24 hours. And if the Vikings thought there was a realistic chance of him playing, why would they promote a fourth quarterback onto their roster?

I will be heading shortly to TCF Bank Stadium. We can only hope that everything here is on the up and up. If not, this episode will cement the Vikings as the laughingstock of the entire NFL this season.

BBAO: Preseason midpoint

August, 23, 2010
8/23/10
7:30
AM ET
We're Black and Blue All Over:

We've reached the midpoint of the preseason, which means we're coming up on the two-week mark before the NFL's real season begins. Bit by bit, we're learning more about each NFC North team. It's still early to start drawing many conclusions, but as we sit here on Aug. 23, I think we can establish the following four facts. Hopefully you use your knowledge wisely as you embark upon this Monday:
  1. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (154.0 passer rating) is a beast.
  2. The preseason is filled with ups and downs, but to this point, the Chicago Bears haven't done anything well yet.
  3. Behind quarterback Matthew Stafford (72.4 completion percentage, one interception in 29 attempts), the Detroit Lions are going to score some points this season.
  4. For all of the talk about the offensive line in Chicago, the Minnesota Vikings have quietly developed a mini-crisis there as well. Sunday night's shift of right guard Anthony Herrera to center was a warning sign.

We'll develop these themes and others throughout the week. For now, a quick spin around the division:
  • Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune examines the state of the Bears' offensive line: "Growing pains were expected. They've moved to a new offense that calls for more seven-step drops than they've used previously, and new line coach Mike Tice has been charged with reshuffling the deck. But left tackle Chris Williams, the 14th pick of the 2008 draft, was supposed to be one of the sure things."
  • Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times offers some Bears perspective: "In the 2006 preseason, the Bears' offense was impotent, but the team played in the Super Bowl. In the 2007 preseason, the Bears acquired Darwin Walker to replace Tank Johnson, a good move at the time, and they seemed to have one of the best rosters in the league. They finished 7-9."
  • The Bears' defense needs to improve on third-and-long, writes Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.
  • The Detroit Lions used defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh at right end Saturday night for two plays as an experiment to alleviate double teams, writes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com: "The Lions still are trying to figure out the situation at right tackle. Jon Jansen started and played most of the first half with Gosder Cherilus also getting some reps with the No. 1 offense."
  • The Lions' secondary is "living down to expectations," writes Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
  • The Green Bay Packers found out Saturday night what it's like to play without cornerback Charles Woodson, writes Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Roughly three weeks before the Packers open the regular season, [coach Mike] McCarthy and his offensive staff probably know about as much about their running attack as they did the day training camp opened. In two exhibition games, starting running back Ryan Grant has carried the ball eight times, two fewer than the team's three quarterbacks."
  • Packers tight end Tom Crabtree is making a push to make the team, writes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • We'll have more on the Vikings' 15-10 loss at San Francisco a bit later, but now is the best time to point out Andrea Kremer's piece on receiver Percy Harvin over on MSNBC.com. Vikings athletic trainer Eric Sugarman told Kremer that Harvin did not collapse last week as a direct result of migraine headaches "but rather as a complication of other factors, which may include an adverse reaction to medication, dehydration and low blood pressure."

Berrian warming up

November, 1, 2009
11/01/09
2:16
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Minnesota receiver Bernard Berrian is on the field getting stretched by Minnesota athletic trainer Eric Sugarman. Berrian’s playing status is a game-time decision because of a hamstring injury, and it’s getting about time to make that call.

Berrian is also running routes under the watchful eyes of Sugarman, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and receivers coach George Stewart. We expect the Vikings to announce their decision sometime around 2:45 p.m. ET.

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