EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson returned to practice Thursday on a limited basis, a big step toward healing from a sprained left ankle.
Quarterback Christian Ponder, however, didn't practice as he nurses a right hip pointer that is jeopardizes his chance to play Sunday at Detroit.
Peterson has missed the last two games with his injury, but he made significant strides in cutting and planting on his foot without pain.
"It was really encouraging to see some of the things he was able to do," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "He's headed in the right direction, far more improved than he was a week ago."
Peterson was unavailable for comment Thursday, preferring to push his weekly media address to Friday. But the team has sensed his eagerness to be back on the field, despite the 2-10 record.
"He's the ultimate competitor. He definitely wants to be in there. But when the time's right he'll be back," right tackle Phil Loadholt said.
The Vikings gained a season-high 489 yards in last week's loss to Denver without their best player, giving them some confidence that the offense can finish the season strong. Wide receiver Percy Harvin, however, downplayed the Peterson effect and put the onus on the entire team for these final four games.
"I don't think having him or not having him has anything to do with what we've got going on right now," Harvin said. "We've just got to execute better, be able to finish games, play all four quarters. We can't have one game when we play good on offense and not so good on defense or play good on defense and not so good on offense. We've just got to find a balance so we can do both."
Tight end Kyle Rudolph played sparingly against Denver, but he caught a touchdown pass, making another highlight-reel reception by plucking the ball out of the air over a defender's helmet and hanging on long enough to establish possession before another opponent swatted it out. Harvin beamed when asked about another young skill position player the offense ought to be able to rely on as a foundation, even if there are upgrades that must be made on the line and the other wide receiver spots for the Vikings to improve.
"I love him. He's a freak athlete. He's probably got one of the best (set of) hands as far as catching the ball that I've ever seen," Harvin said. "He makes tremendous catches. He's big, strong, all the things you want in a skillful tight end. We've just got to find a way to get him on the field a little bit more, get him into the mix."
That's offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's job. The Vikings blamed Rudolph's lack of use on the quadriceps injury that limited his practice work last week, but Musgrave said Thursday they "want to try and throw it to him as often as humanly possible."
Rudolph said he feels "great" about the improvements the offense has made.
"We have a ton of talent, and this month is very important for us to go out there and generate some momentum going into this offseason."
The question is whether he'll have his good friend Ponder to throw to him this weekend. Frazier said the Vikings will try to "put him through some paces" in practice Friday to determine if he'll be an option for Sunday's game. The coach said he'd lean against playing Ponder if he couldn't practice all week.
"He didn't look too good walking yesterday, so we'll just have to see if he continues to heal up as the week progresses," Musgrave said.
RG Anthony Herrera was the Vikings' winner of the league wide Ed Block Courage Award for returning from offseason elbow and knee surgery. An undrafted free agent in 2004, Herrera has started 66 of 76 career games. ... Harvin tore a ligament in his finger while trying to brace himself during a fall in Wednesday's practice, but Frazier said he's fine. ... DE Brian Robison passed his required post-concussion tests and returned to practice Thursday.