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Redskins sign veteran running back Adrian Peterson

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Adrian Peterson is returning to football for the first time since suffering a season-ending neck injury in mid-December.

After putting the four-time All-Pro through a tryout on Monday, the Washington Redskins have signed Peterson, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport and NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported, via a source informed of the situation. The team later made the news official.

"I'm excited," Peterson said in a statement. "It's been a long offseason but I've been keeping my body in shape and [I'm] ready for this opportunity. So when this opportunity presented itself, I was just excited."

The Redskins suddenly find themselves short-handed in the backfield after losing Derrius Guice, Samaje Perine and Byron Marshall to injuries in the first two preseason games.

Although coach Jay Gruden initially ruled out the idea of importing a mercenary veteran when Guice went down, he realized he was facing dire straits with Perine and Marshall out and receiving specialist Chris Thompson still working his way back from a broken fibula.

When news broke Sunday of impending visits for the free-agent trio of Peterson, Jamaal Charles and Orleans Darkwa, Gruden emphasized that he's not looking for a starter. A slimmed-down Rob Kelley is locked in as the first-team tailback.

"We've had very [unlucky] situations with our running backs," Gruden explained. "If something else happens, we are going be really, really, really thin. We want to make sure we're covering all our bases right now."

An afterthought in free agency after the Cardinals released him in March, Peterson has a prime opportunity to climb the depth chart in Washington.

"I would be lying to you if I said [the offseason] wasn't tough, because you're human," Peterson said. "I've seen guys come through that door and guys go through this process. I had a great appreciation for it. But me knowing what I had left in the tank, that was the only thing bothering me. But I knew in due time the opportunity would present itself."

Although the former Vikings superstar averaged a paltry 3.4 yards per carry last season, he broke the 130-yard mark twice in six games as Arizona's bellcow. Behind a porous offensive line, he showed impressive burst, power, jump-cuts and breakaway speed as a runner.

"There's no doubt that Adrian still has some juice left in the tank, particularly from a run-skill standpoint," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim noted in February. "He still runs with a lot of anger and aggressiveness, and has the type of contact balance you look for in that position.

"But in today's day and age, we all know that you have to be able to catch the ball out of the backfield, you have to be able to do a lot of different things. So versatility is really a key."

Therein lies the rub. Reluctant to add Peterson as a complementary piece in a committee attack because his presence on the field too often telegraphs a running play, teams have begun to view Peterson as a one-dimensional power back best utilized in cases of emergency.

After training with the 33-year-old this summer, though, Redskins Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams insists Peterson "hasn't slowed down a step."

"I don't understand the stigma when people get 31, 32, 33 -- they somehow just slow down," Williams said Sunday, via the Washington Times. "You don't. That's a gifted athlete, you know? He has a gift. Did Darrell Green ever lose his speed? He didn't. Some things are just always with you. It's you, it's your makeup, it's your DNA. ... So, no, he's the same athlete that you're used to seeing."

If Williams' scouting report proves to be credible, Kelley could end up losing his stranglehold on the lead-back role as the season plays out.

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