Adrian Peterson is learning what it’s like to play in an offense that won’t feature him.
Then again, this is exactly what arguably the greatest running back of his generation signed up for when he agreed to play with the New Orleans Saints and prolific passer Drew Brees.
“I think he’s looking forward to that,” Saints fullback John Kuhn said after Thursday’s voluntary offseason practice, the first with veterans that has been open to media this offseason. “Not to put words in his mouth, but everybody in here, especially on the offensive side, realizes that the more weapons that we have, the more explosive we can be.
“It’s a situation, I think, where we all look around and say, ‘If we all have success as a group, we’ll all have success individually,'” Kuhn continued. “That can prolong careers. That can create accolades. That can do all kinds of different things for everybody.”
While players were in shorts and there was no tackling, Peterson appeared to be fit and largely recovered from knee and abductor injuries that sidelined him most of last season. He participated vigorously in the entirety of Thursday’s non-contact practice. Other than a fumbled a handoff exchange with backup quarterback Chase Daniel, he had few missteps and saw perhaps more action that he otherwise might have because incumbent starting running back Mark Ingram was held out for unspecified reasons.
The Saints seem inclined to explore whether Peterson might be more of a factor as a receiver out of the backfield than he has been during his first 10 NFL seasons. He caught several passes at practice — not just screens, but a few balls thrown farther downfield, along the sideline.
Just how serious coach Sean Payton is about making Peterson a regular receiving threat isn’t clear, but the Saints do have a history of running backs contributing regularly in the passing game in Payton’s offense, starting with Reggie Bush in 2006 and continuing with Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Ingram.
Payton said Peterson looks “comfortable catching the ball in space … much the same way you’d expect
Mark or any of those backs to have a variety of things that they can do.”
“Now, as we get closer into the season, you begin to hone in on how you want to deploy certain people,” Payton continued. “But he made a few catches today that looked pretty good.”
Peterson did not speak with reporters. He was one of a several players, including Brees, who did not appear in the locker room after players were excused for Memorial Day weekend.
However, Peterson said in a conference call after signing with New Orleans last month that he liked the vision Payton had for him in an offensive scheme that has rarely featured a single workhorse running back.
“I know what type of offense New Orleans runs,” Peterson said then. “I knew what I was getting myself into and I am comfortable with that.”
Payton didn’t sound concerned about finding ways for Peterson and Ingram to co-exist and also alluded to the fact that running backs play a position that is relatively prone to injury.
“We’ll figure it out,” Payton said. “That trait of wanting the ball is obviously a healthy one. And we’ll make sure each week we put a plan together and utilize the strengths of what those guys do well. And look, it’s a long season.”
It remains to be seen how effectively Peterson, at 32, can summon the form of his prime, when his combination of power, speed, agility and instincts seemed to set him apart.
But Peterson has said that does not believe it’s fair to lower expectations for him simply because conventional wisdom that running backs tend to decline sharply after 30, particularly if they’ve had a couple significant injuries.
Payton appears ready to give Peterson the benefit of the doubt. After all, Peterson not only has compiled seven seasons with 1,000-plus yards rushing, but also rushed for more than 2,000 yards in 2012, one season after reconstructive surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
“He would be the one guy that you would say already has really gone against conventional wisdom,” Payton said. “So I would agree with him, not only (because of) his skill set, but his physical ability and the way he trains and his athleticism.”
Kuhn has seen Peterson up close many times, having played eight years for Green Bay. Peterson spent all of his previous seasons with Minnesota, in same division as the Packers.
“He looks the same way he looked when I was watching him from the other sideline,” Kuhn said. “I’m just excited to see him in the same team colors.”