John E. Hoover: Adrian Peterson's return from ACL injury has been remarkable
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Thursday, December 13, 2012
12/13/12 at 5:22 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blog
Observers sometimes wondered when he was at Oklahoma if Adrian Peterson was some kind of genetically enhanced super species of human. Or maybe he was just the next mutation in human evolution.
Let's face it. What Peterson is doing now in the National Football League raises all those questions again.
"Freak" doesn't do Peterson justice. "Beast" - at least medically speaking - falls short.
Remember, it's still two weeks shy of the one-year anniversary of Peterson's horrible knee injury last Dec. 24 at Washington. He suffered major ligament damage and needed reconstructive surgery.
And here Peterson sits, with three games left in the 2012 regular season, with 1,600 rushing yards - just 400 shy of becoming the ninth player in NFL history to run for 2,000 (he needs to average 134 per game to reach the milestone).
He's almost a quarter-mile ahead of his closest competitor, Seattle's Marshawn Lynch.
On Sunday, Peterson takes his prodigious talents to St. Louis to face former Sooner teammate Sam Bradford and the Rams. Both teams are desperate for victories as the playoff picture comes into focus.
"He's fun to watch," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said on Wednesday, "as long as you're not preparing for him."
The 6-foot-1, 217-pound Peterson started his sixth season a bit tentative, with one 100-yard performance in his first six games. But - and this goes against medical history, here - he has gotten stronger, better, as the season has progressed. Fatigue is a non-factor. He's working on seven consecutive 100-yard games and is averaging 6.0 yards per carry.
Just one week after his really big day against Green Bay - 210 yards on 21 carries - he carried a season-high 31 times last week against Chicago.
It's as though Peterson saves his physical therapy sessions for Sundays against the Bears, Packers, Seahawks, et al.
"What he's done, specifically just the last five weeks is just off the charts," Fisher said. "He's got a ... run in (five of the last six) weeks of 51 yards or more, against good defenses; 200 yards rushing against (the Packers). You don't see anybody like him."
Listen to what Vikings coach Leslie Frazier - like Fisher, a former NFL defensive back - said about Peterson during a conference call with St. Louis media on Wednesday:
"You're right. Ordinarily, with that injury, it's going to take a while, and even if you come back that next season, you're probably not going to be the player that you were the year before the injury," Frazier said. "But, Adrian has been amazing from the time he started the (season-opening) game against Jacksonville and throughout the season. He's just gotten better and better and I don't think there's anybody who thought, going into the season, that we'd be talking about Adrian with 1,600 yards, leading the league in rushing, MVP candidate, Comeback Player of the Year candidate. It's just mind-boggling in a lot of ways.
"A lot of credit to Adrian - his hard work, his determination - (and) what our training staff did, (head athletic trainer) Eric Sugarman and his guys. Just an amazing story."
While everyone around him marvels, Peterson said he isn't really surprised by his results.
"Not surprised at all," Peterson said on the conference call. "... I really took advantage of every opportunity, every process and really going all in as far as my effort. With the mindset that, 'Hey, I want to be back for the first game and I want to come back better than I was before.' "
Peterson said he "really didn't beat myself up about it. I was able just to accept it for what it was, make my game plan and then go after it. In the midst of that recovery, there were times where I struggled, but I was able just to get my mind right mentally. I felt like that's the key when you're trying to bounce back from an injury or you're going through whatever situation you might be going through mentally."
Football people will tell you there's no position in the game that puts stress on the knees like running back. The running and cutting, the hitting and driving, dragging tacklers, pushing piles, straining for yards - it's unforgiving.
The careers of many running backs have been either ended or wrecked by ACL injuries. Superstars like Gayle Sayers, Billy Sims, Mike Gaddis, Marcus Dupree and Terrell Davis come to mind.
"There are so many stories about guys not coming back," Frazier said. "And to have Adrian come back and play the way he's playing so soon after the ACL injury - actually, when we started the season, he was only 7 1/2, maybe 8 months out."
Some do return, like Thurman Thomas, Willis McGahee, Frank Gore and even Jamaal Charles this year.
Peterson hasn't yet regained his elite speed. That will come. Still, it's clear that what he's doing right now has never been done before. By anyone.
"A lot of prayer," he said. "I prayed a lot. That was definitely key. That's my secret."
"It's hard to explain, but a lot of it goes back to his hard work, his determination," Frazier said. "And I tease him all the time: I think his genetics have a little bit to do with it as well. There's something a little bit different about him in the way he recovers and the way he prepares. He's been fun to watch."
Original Print Headline: Peterson's return is remarkable
Mutant healing powers
Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson is wowing NFL observers with his season after a devastating knee injury last season. But even when he was at Oklahoma, Peterson always seemed to have extraordinary healing powers.
- In his first preseason scrimmage, Peterson tried to hurdle Brandon Shelby but landed upside down on his shoulder, dislocating it. He missed a couple days of practice, then set NCAA freshman rushing records of 349 carries, 1,925 yards and nine consecutive 100-yard games.
- Nine games into his freshman year, in a tight game at Texas A&M, the Sooners needed to run out the clock to preserve a 42-35 victory. Peterson re-dislocated his shoulder at the end of one series, went to the locker room, popped it back in, then sprinted back onto the field on third-and-2 of the next series to pick up a critical first down.
- Peterson suffered a painful high ankle sprain in Week 4 of the 2005 season and hobbled through three games before coaches finally gave him a week off. He was immediately back at full strength and finished the regular season with 146, 135, 108 and 237 yards.
- In 2006, Peterson splintered his collarbone at the end of a spectacular touchdown run against Iowa State. Then, against the advice of doctors and NFL scouts, he came back for the Fiesta Bowl, rushed for 87 yards and ripped off a 25-yard TD run on his final college carry.