MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Maurice Jones-Drew saw the video clips of Adrian Peterson sprinting up the slope at the edge of Minnesota’s practice field, another display of the Vikings star’s fierce determination to have his surgically repaired left knee ready in time for the regular season.
The sight was so stirring for Jones-Drew it catalyzed the end of his holdout from the Jacksonville Jaguars. After all, heavy-load running backs like the two of them can use some company in today’s NFL. They’ve fast become a relic in this pass-driven league.
“Seeing him run those hills, he kind of inspired me to get back at it again,” Jones-Drew said, adding: “It shows he has the right mindset and he’s ready to go to work. I’m wishing him all the best.”
Except, of course, on Sunday when the Jaguars visit the Vikings.
Though Vikings coach Leslie Frazier has squeezed every last cautionary comment out of his lexicon over the past few months, declining to grant final clearance, all signs have pointed to Peterson’s participation in the opener. Frazier has stressed his use will be limited behind Toby Gerhart.
“We’re going to prepare like he’s the guy,” Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey said, refusing to embrace Frazier’s stated plan.
Jones-Drew has found himself in a similar situation. During training camp, while the Vikings were trying to hold Peterson back from overdoing his rehabilitation, Jones-Drew was holding out. He reported to the Jaguars last weekend, seven days ahead of the first game. Mularkey has said Jones-Drew will play, but in a third-down role behind Rashad Jennings.
“We’re preparing as if he is going to play a lot. He’s a guy you definitely don’t want to ignore on the football field,” Frazier said, expressing the same skepticism.
Try to find two running backs in the league right now more valuable to their teams.
Over the last five seasons, Peterson and Jones-Drew rank first and second in the NFL in each of these categories: yards rushing, total touchdowns and total yards from scrimmage. During that same span, the Vikings are first (139.4) and the Jaguars (131.3) are third in the league in average yards rushing per game. The Carolina Panthers are second.
The 2011 standings, though, revealed a major flaw in the strategy. The Jaguars finished 5-11, and the Vikings matched their franchise-worst record at 3-13. No team passed for fewer yards in the NFL last year than the Jaguars. The Vikings weren’t much better at fifth worst.
So are these teams stuck with their heads in the sand while the rest of the league is looking up, in the air? Or do they boast elite players at this still-important position who will continue to fuel team success provided the talent level in other places on the roster is improved?
Well, these guys have an answer, even if it’s not objective analysis.
“At the end of the day being a player and understanding this league, balance is what helps win games,” Jones-Drew said, pointing to the formula used down the stretch last season by the Super Bowl champion New York Giants. “As running backs we have to stick together because everybody is trying to devalue us and say we’re not this or we’re not that which is pretty funny.”
Said Peterson of Jones-Drew: “He was their whole offense last year. So without him the Jaguars would’ve been terrible, just to be honest. So I feel like once he gets back into the rhythm, he’s going to get his load in. God willing, I’ll get mine as well.”
One of the reasons teams have strayed from the featured, 30-carry-per-game runner is the short shelf lives most of them have. Peterson is starting his sixth year in the NFL, Jones-Drew his seventh. This, then, is supposed to be the back half of their careers. Jones-Drew, who led the league with 1,606 yards rushing last season, has averaged 318 carries plus 43 receptions over the last three years. So he has plenty of wear, a fact not lost on him when he asked the Jaguars to rework the final two seasons of his deal. They declined.
Peterson is coming off torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments, a tough injury to recover from, especially for a running back. But another trait these guys have in common is a defiance so prevalent it might be strong enough to overcome any delusions about the state of the NFL and the hard living they must make at their position.
“If I can carry the ball 80 times in a game, I would carry it 80 times in a game,” Jones-Drew said.
Peterson has often spoken with the same tones. Asked whether he believes he’ll be the same player he was before he was hurt, he said no.
“I think I’ll be better than I was before,” Peterson said.
The real question is whether the Jaguars and Vikings, both starting second-year quarterbacks in Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder, will be better than before.
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