EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Adrian Peterson's goal is to be consistent. Every day in his rehab-filled offseason should be the same. So, the Minnesota Vikings running back wakes up at 8 a.m. as often as possible.
"And I'm grinding," said Peterson, the face of the franchise, who tore his ACL on Dec. 24.
By 9 a.m., he is in workout mode, whether in the weight room or on the track. If he's running first to work on conditioning, it's a combination of 400-yard reps, 300s, 100s or starts. Then, he'll hit pause for an hour to eat before heading in to lift. There, he'll do a full-body workout, a lower-body workout, or whatever Vikings head trainer Eric Sugarman plans for him. Plenty of days, it lasts more than six hours.
"I've just been in the lab, that's what I like to call it," Peterson told NFL.com in a lengthy interview before the team's minicamp practice on Tuesday. "Working towards being back on the field as soon as possible."
Peterson is itching to be on the field. He has long targeted Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars as the benchmark for his return, and he didn't back off that timeline on Tuesday.
"I feel like it's realistic," said Peterson, who has averaged at least 4.4 yards per carry during every one of his NFL seasons, with at least 10 touchdowns. "As of now, I feel like I'm heading in the right direction to meet that."
He may be on the physically-unable-to-perform list for the start of camp, but he's not harping on that. As long as he's participating when the starting gun sounds, "That's all I worry about," he said.
Peterson's athletic talents and will are no secret. Considered one of the sport's machine-like workout warriors, teammates have marveled at how he gets after it. Every offseason, he picks one area to improve on and hopes to return to each camp stronger than he was the previous year. This year, though, he's in a different place. He's been humbled. He's trying to build himself back up. No wonder he called it the toughest offseason of his life.
"It really just made me grind, just work even harder," Peterson said. "When you're knocked down, you gotta start from scratch. I've learned it's a different sense of urgency, just a different mentality. I'm going to say the past six weeks been probably the hardest I've worked in my life."
It's an understatement to say the depth-starved, rebuilding Vikings need Peterson. A learning quarterback in Christian Ponder and young-and-talented receivers like Percy Harvin and Jerome Simpson must have his talents. (Though now it appears Harvin isn't too happy in Minnesota and may want to take his own talents elsewhere.)
There was organizational optimism in late May that Peterson would start the season on the field, and nothing has changed that. Even though Peterson has been cautious -- not taking part in team workouts this spring -- the Vikings have seen enough to maintain hope that he'll meet his goal.
"I know how determined (Peterson) is to prove to everybody that he's going to be even better than before the injury. He's kind of a freak of nature," general manager Rick Spielman said on May 31.
On the day Spielman spoke to NFL.com, Peterson and Harvin put on a show racing up a hill more than 10 times. Though slowed by a healing knee, Peterson even won a few rounds over one of the NFL's fastest players. To many, it looked like a turning point. Not to Peterson. It was just another day (except the public was watching).
"We're both competitors," Peterson said. "And I was telling him, 'Hey, I'm gonna get you on a couple of these,' and I was able to beat him a couple times. But it definitely feels good, and it definitely boosts my confidence to be able to come out and beat him in a couple reps. It just keeps me focused to know the things I've been doing are working out."
If Peterson isn't ready, Toby Gerhart will get the call, and he's a capable backup.
"We've talked about some scenarios and gone through some what-ifs," coach Leslie Frazier said, "but so far, (Peterson) is on pace with everything the doctors have asked him to do. We're optimistic that things are still on course for him to play in that home opener."
Being back before nine months would be considered fast for an ACL tear. But Peterson was able to have surgery within a week of his injury, which sped up his timeline. (By comparison, because of swelling, Patriots receiver Wes Welker waited an entire month before having surgery for the same injury.)
"My first thought was, 'Hey, I want to get the surgery done as fast as possible to go ahead and start this process," Peterson said. "Go ahead and get it behind me and get it going. I haven't had any setbacks."
Peterson spent Tuesday running on the side while his teammates practiced, even sprinting up that familiar practice-field hill. It looked good. It looked fast. It wasn't the same. Peterson knows that. The former Oklahoma star wants to run through the line and test himself out. That's the only way he'll really know.
"There's nothing like being out there and going through the holes and just, it's different," Peterson said. "You can't imitate it off to the side by yourself. You gotta get in there and get the real deal. I feel like once I'm able to do that, I'll be able to see how I am."
Oh, and he wants to get hit, too.
"Why not? It's always good to have that contact," Peterson said. "That's the best way to see how you're going to react to it, your body's going to react to it."
Teammates already have an idea for how this story will end.
"He seems optimistic, so therefore I'm optimistic," defensive end Jared Allen said. "That dude, he's a machine. I would be surprised if he's not back."
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