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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: Bridgewater injury means Peterson is more important than ever to Vikings’ offense

By Judd Zulgad

Remember when this was going to be the season that the Vikings’ offense made the transition from the Adrian show to the Teddy show? Remember when this was going to be the year that Jerick McKinnon played a far bigger role and the 31-year-old Peterson saw his workload lightened? Remember when that all seemed like a realistic possibility?

Well, Bridgewater spent Thursday in an operating room having his heavily damaged left knee repaired and McKinnon sat out practice because of a foot injury.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, meanwhile, continued to play it coy when it came to whether newcomer Sam Bradford or veteran backup Shaun Hill will start the regular-season opener on Sunday in Tennessee.

So three days before the Vikings begin defense of their first NFC North title since 2009 only one thing appears to be certain. All of that of talk about reducing Peterson’s role has been put on hold and much of it might have to wait until 2017, when he might not even be in purple because of a scheduled $18 million salary-cap hit.

Entering his 10th NFL season and coming off his third rushing title, the 31-year-old Peterson will be more important than ever for a team that continues to expect big things after sending a first- and conditional fourth-round pick to Philadelphia last weekend for Bradford.

It’s not that Peterson wasn’t going to be a key part of the offense before, but the expectation was that Bridgewater was prepared to take a significant step forward in his third NFL season. Part of that meant the coaching staff putting Bridgewater in a position to do what he does best. That included having him work out of the shotgun more often and having the shifty McKinnon at his disposable out of the backfield, especially in third-down situations.

Peterson, who returned from an ACL injury of his own in 2012 to rush for an incredible 2,097 yards, does one thing incredibly well. The man is a Hall of Fame runner and his place in Canton already is secure. But Peterson isn’t a great with the quarterback working out of the shotgun, he isn’t nearly as fluid in catching the ball as McKinnon appears to be and he definitely isn’t very good in pass protection.

Last season, Peterson rushed for an NFL-leading 1,485 yards — a total made even more impressive by the evidence that running back’s usually drop off the cliff at the age of 30 — but he did so by having 39 more rushing attempts than any other running back. Nine times in the regular season, and again in the playoff loss to Seattle, Peterson was handed the ball 20 or more times.

So before Bridgewater’s knee gave out during an Aug. 30 practice at Winter Park it was logical to think that Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner might have their quarterback throw the ball a bit more and hand it off a little less.

How would Peterson have taken this transition? We aren’t about to find out anytime soon.

Whether Bradford or Hill starts Sunday, the instructions will be the same. Don’t make any dumb mistakes, don’t try to be a hero and hand the ball to Peterson approximately 30 times. (Peterson had a season-high 29 carries on three different occasions last year.)

And when the ball isn’t handed to Peterson, you can be sure that he will be part of a play-action fake that the Vikings’ hope will freeze Titans defenders and create a better opportunity for a completion.

So what if Peterson misses a block, drops a pass, or has a reoccurrence of the fumbling problem that has plagued him on and off throughout his career? Well, then Zimmer and Turner won’t be happy. They might even say something to Peterson about the miscue.

And then they will send him back in the game, order the quarterback to give him the ball again and be thankful that in the race against time, Peterson still seems to be wining.

The post Zulgad: Bridgewater injury means Peterson is more important than ever to Vikings’ offense appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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