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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: Can Peterson become a more complete player? That’s debatable

By Judd Zulgad

Adrian Peterson said all the right things as he prepared to walk into the offseason on Monday.

The running back wants to clean up the issues that led to him fumbling the ball eight times this season and losing four of them, including a devastating turnover Sunday in the Vikings’ playoff loss to Seattle.

He wants to find a way to get more involved in the offense that goes beyond lining up 7 yards behind quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, taking a handoff and trying to find daylight. Peterson wants to be relied upon to remain in games on third down, when he must be able to provide pass protection, and he wants to be able to run better routes and catch more passes.

“You look at the young guys, Jerick (McKinnon), he comes in a lot on third down and he presents a different piece to our offense, running routes and things like that,” Peterson said. “I envision myself doing things like that at a different level, so that’s what I mean by being more involved and being more diverse when it comes to the offense we have.”

If Peterson develops in these areas that would be ideal for an offense in which the Pro Bowl running back and young quarterback never really meshed in their first season together.

But here’s a word of caution when it comes to what Peterson said: Don’t believe it until you see it.

Peterson will turn 31 years old in March and will be entering his 10th NFL season in 2016. Five years after he retires, Peterson will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and will be acknowledged as one of the great runners to ever play the sport.

He spent much of this past season showing us again how special he is when the football is put in his hands and stays there. After essentially spending the 2014 season suspended while facing and then dealing with a child abuse charge, Peterson returned to rush for an NFL-best 1,485 yards on a league-high 327 attempts. No other running back exceeded 300 carries.

But Peterson’s abilities as a runner don’t make him a great running back. His deficiencies disqualify him from becoming considered a complete player.

Those deficiencies were worrisome because they meant that Bridgewater eventually had to adjust to what Peterson did well because Peterson was incapable of making adjustments to help his quarterback.

Peterson’s drawbacks are nothing new. He hasn’t been good in pass protection since he entered the NFL in 2007 and while he can catch passes, he’s never looked very fluid in doing so. Watch McKinnon and Peterson catch the ball and it is one instance where McKinnon is the superior player.

I’m going to pause for a second here because some of you are seeing red as you read this. Let me guess what you’re thinking: “You’re an idiot, Judd. Peterson is the star of this offense and Bridgewater hasn’t even proven himself as a consistently capable quarterback yet. The Vikings formula for winning games in 2016 should be the same as it was in 2015, and that means giving Peterson the ball and hoping Teddy doesn’t screw up.”

Here’s the problem with your thinking. Yes, Peterson can win you regular-season games, and he can get you to the playoffs, but the importance of developing a quarterback in the NFL can’t be understated, and Peterson’s at a point in his career where he needs to be part of the process that spends next season putting Bridgewater in a position to succeed. Not for one game, not for eight games but for the entire regular season.

There will be a new level of pressure on Bridgewater in his third year as a starter and to ask him to adjust his game to Peterson’s wouldn’t only be unfair, it would be unwise. One, Bridgewater is the future of this franchise and two, Peterson doesn’t have much time in purple left.

If Bridgewater falls flat on his face in year three and doesn’t look like the guy, general manager Rick Spielman will have swung and missed on a second first-round quarterback. That’s how executives lose jobs.

Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer spent much of last offseason convincing Peterson how much he was wanted in Minnesota, despite the fact an angry Peterson had no interest in returning at the time. As this season played out, you got the feeling Peterson knew he could do or say anything he wanted because the Vikings had handed him all the power.

That needs to change and there are signs that already might have happened. At his season-ending press conference on Tuesday, Zimmer spoke of some mistakes he made with the offense and having to figure things out at the beginning of the year.

Zimmer also said he had a “nice, long talk” with Peterson on Monday. That made it obvious that what Peterson told the media that day came from the discussion he just had with Zimmer.

That talk might have been a positive first step in Peterson realizing that simply returning as a great runner in the Vikings’ offense next season isn’t going to get this franchise to where it is capable of going to.

Zimmer has turned the Vikings’ defense into one of the toughest to score against in the NFL (fifth this season). But even with Peterson’s big rushing numbers, the offense ranked 29th in yards and middle of the pack in points per game.

Bridgewater’s developmental will be crucial if the Vikings are going to improve in these areas next season. But if Peterson returns as a more complete player, that’s going to be a huge boost for the quarterback.

This far into his career, will Peterson be able to do it? I’ll believe it when I see it.

The post Zulgad: Can Peterson become a more complete player? That’s debatable appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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