Adrian Peterson works on grasp
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- For all the time Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings have spent studying his fumbling problem, knowledge and strategy will mean nothing if he loses the ball this week in New Orleans.
The extra-aggressive Saints are sure to be trying to strip Peterson of his most prized possession in Thursday's season opener, with the NFC Championship Game memory still fresh. The All-Pro running back's 122-yard, three-touchdown performance on that epic January night was tainted by two fumbles, plus a botched handoff with Brett Favre.
Peterson, however, believes he's found a cure.
"Holding it high," he said Monday. "I found out by studying myself that when I'm going down I kind of brace myself with the hand I'm carrying the ball in, and that's leaving opportunities for those guys that are reaching and scraping and punching for that ball."
So how does he avoid that?
"Just not brace yourself as much," Peterson said. "I'm a pretty tough guy, so just keep the ball high and fall down. Like you said, it is all off instinct. But when that becomes a problem, you sit there and say, 'Hey, I've got to eliminate doing this.'"
He'd like to take better advantage of defenders, too, when they eschew proper wrapping-up technique for the riskier attempt to get the ball out.
"I look forward for guys to try to tackle me and tackle the ball," Peterson said. "They might not be on the field too long if they continue to do that."
Since the start of his career in 2007, Peterson leads the league with 20 fumbles, losing 13 of them.
"He's such a talented back and he runs so hard that I think it's almost instinctual for him that he lets that ball loose a little bit sometimes," Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma said. "I don't know how you correct that. I don't know how he corrects it. I hope he hasn't corrected it, to be honest with you. But he's a very, very talented back, and he definitely has my respect."
Running backs coach Eric Bieniemy led the team's offseason review of Peterson's habits, yielding an extensive video montage of the turnovers and near-turnovers. The Vikings also consulted New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin and former running back Tiki Barber, who overcame early-career fumbling problems by changing his carry style to a higher and tighter look.
For all the ability Favre has to run a team, read a defense and fire the ball downfield, Peterson remains the fulcrum of this offense. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell didn't flinch Monday when asked if he still considers this a run-first system.
"Absolutely," Bevell said. "I think that we need to try to get Adrian the ball as much as we can."
Favre recalled Sunday the enjoyment he had in last year's season opener when Peterson ran for 180 yards and three touchdowns against the Cleveland Browns.
"I had the best seat in the house," Favre said. "I said, 'This is going to be a lot of fun this year."
Perhaps just as important for Peterson against the Saints, or against any team for that matter, are his blitz pickups in pass protection. Peterson has struggled in that area in the past, a major reason why Chester Taylor took the majority of third-down snaps over the past three years, but Bevell praised Peterson's progress.
"I'd say he's come a long way even in these last two weeks," Bevell said.
So Peterson will take the field at the Superdome later this week, eager to deliver some helmet-jarring hits on the Saints defense to pay back their treatment of Favre in the playoffs.
"I always work hard, but it felt different this offseason," Peterson said, adding: "It just made me even hungrier."
The taste of that bitter overtime loss is still there for Peterson as much as it is for anyone else wearing purple.
"We've got to go out there and stay focused and eliminate the mistakes that we had last year against those guys," Peterson said, "and we'll definitely win."
Meanwhile, the Vikings have not ruled out cornerback Cedric Griffin playing this week in New Orleans.
Griffin blew out his left knee in the NFC Championship Game against the Saints last January, an anterior cruciate ligament injury that typically requires about nine months of recovery. Griffin recently returned to practice, but he was listed as a limited participant on the injury report released Monday by the Vikings.
"My body's fine. I always had good wind, so that's never a problem," he said. "I really feel good right now."
"The fact that he's out here practicing gives us some hope, and so we're just trying to ascertain over the next couple of days -- is it a real possibility?" defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. "We're going to give it another day and just see how he does tomorrow, but he has already done far more than we expected when we decided to put him" on the active 53-man roster.
Starter Antoine Winfield seemed to contradict what Frazier and Griffin suggested about his participation level.
"I've seen him running around out there, but he hasn't really taken any reps in our period," Winfield said.
Even if Griffin pulls off the improbable and suits up against the Saints, the Vikings still appear vulnerable at a critical position, particularly against a prolific passing team. Asher Allen and Lito Sheppard are the only other fully healthy cornerbacks next to Winfield, with rookie Chris Cook out with a knee injury. Cook didn't practice Monday.
"That's tough to go into the season with only three, right now, healthy bodies," Winfield said. "But this is our job. This is what we do. We have to go with who's healthy."
Frazier downplayed the pursuit of a free agent. He said safety Husain Abdullah is a possible emergency cornerback.
Backup defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy also sat out of practice because of a knee injury he's been bothered by for weeks. Other players listed as limited were running back Toby Gerhart (knee), safety Jamarca Sanford (ankle) and center John Sullivan (calf).
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.