By Dan Wiederer, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –
MINNEAPOLIS — If the calendar is correct, Sunday will be Sept. 9. Which is the Sunday of Week 1 in the NFL.
And Sept. 9 and Week 1, if memory serves, are the date and the event that have been rolling off Adrian Peterson’s tongue just about every day since last January.
As in — and we’re summarizing Peterson’s talking points for the past eight months here — “I will be ready on Sept. 9. I will play in Week 1 against Jacksonville. That’s the goal. I will reach that goal. And I won’t let anyone stand in my way or tell me it’s not possible.”
So imagine the anxiety that Vikings coach Leslie Frazier must be feeling this week. Sometime on Sunday morning, as the Vikings prepare to host the Jaguars in their 2012 season opener, Frazier will have to announce his final decision on whether Peterson can play.
On Sept. 9, in Week 1.
For Frazier, there will be nothing like starting a pivotal season with this kind of pressure and a call this big.
It’s a decision that will either validate Peterson’s comeback vows or temporarily deflate his morale.
Late last week, Frazier asserted he wouldn’t make his final call until game day, an assertion he stood by Monday.
What Frazier and the Vikings’ medical team want most is to put Peterson through a demanding week of practice. They want to evaluate how he responds as he continues to absorb some contact.
They want to see how he’s instinctively moving and cutting and reacting on the fly. They want to gauge just how in tune he is with the game plan during an intense week of preparation.
Said Frazier: “We need to see him do some things physically within what we’re trying to get done against Jacksonville.”
And when it comes time Sunday to activate the traffic light — red, yellow or green — Frazier said he won’t allow concern for Peterson’s mood to influence the decision.
“You really have to take the emotion out of it,” Frazier said. “You’ve got to really home in on what’s best for him, what’s best for our team. Adrian is not just another guy on our team. He is, in so many ways, the face of what we try to do. So we have to be able to see the big picture when it comes to him.”
But aren’t there fears that asking the star running back to take a seat on Sunday — on Sept. 9, in Week 1 — could send him into a funk, especially given how hard he’s pushed and persevered and promised to be ready? Aren’t there worries that Peterson, as eager and ambitious as he always is, won’t be able to see that big picture himself?
“There was a point, maybe I would have worried about that,” Frazier said Monday. “But of late, I think he has really bought into some of the things we’ve been talking to him about from a preparation standpoint and how we want to approach this regular season.”
On the one hand, the Vikings have to be ultra-careful with their star running back, taking into account that they aren’t at this 2012 starting line stretching for a Super Bowl run.
The rebuilding process, like Peterson’s recovery from major knee surgery, has to be approached with the right combination of urgency and patience. And every risk-reward scenario with Peterson points toward holding him back as long as possible, especially with Toby Gerhart more than capable of being an early-season workhorse.
On the other hand, the Vikings will also need to show serious signs of life in their four September games to keep an unsettled fan base from souring like three-week-old milk. Sunday’s home date with the Jaguars is as winnable as any of those contests. And having Peterson in the mix, if only for a handful of touches, would send a jolt of energy through the Twin Cities and allow the enthusiastic running back to begin easing back toward a heavy workload.
Remember, this is a season where hope must quickly replace disgruntlement. And the ticking of the clock seems to have gotten louder this week. Now it’ll be up to Frazier and the Vikings to make a major call on their offensive star. This one has a definitive deadline: Sept. 9, Week 1.