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Focus is on running backs as Minnesota Vikings host Jacksonville Jaguars

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has been doing everything possible to return from a severe knee injury.

Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew is finally back, but it's not on his terms.

It's uncertain how much either with play - if at all, in Peterson's case - as these teams meet in Sunday's season opener at the Metrodome.

The NFL leader with 6,752 rushing yards since he entered the league in 2007, Peterson could return a little more than eight months after undergoing reconstructive surgery on a torn ACL and MCL suffered Dec. 24 at Washington.

The four-time Pro Bowler did not play in the preseason but has been participating in practice as the Vikings try to rebound from their second straight losing season (3-13).

"Despite what everyone else had to say, that was my vision," Peterson said of playing in the opener. "I knew it was going to be a journey, a path, to get closer to that vision, and I'm closer. I see it. It's closer now. It was far away in the beginning, but I've been working hard and just moving forward."

Coach Leslie Frazier said that Peterson will be a game-time decision, and if he can't go, Toby Gerhart would likely be the featured back.

"With Toby we can run our offense even if Adrian isn't in there," Frazier said. "We feel like we don't have to change any of our plays. We're very confident and comfortable with Toby being our lead back if that's the case. The same runs that Adrian would have would be the same runs that Toby would have."

New Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey has the same confidence in third-year back Rashad Jennings, who had a solid preseason with 209 yards on the ground as Jones-Drew - the NFL leader with 1,606 yards last season - skipped offseason workouts and training camp in a failed attempt to renegotiate his contract.

Jones-Drew ended his 38-day holdout last Sunday and could get some touches in Week 1.

"I have to kind of get acclimated to the offense," Jones-Drew said. "I have to show them the work to get my job back. That's all it is. No one has ever given me anything in my whole life. This is just something that I've been used to. I like it. The competition is going to be great. ... I have a lot to catch up on and get back to my old self."

Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert feels that he's ready to rebound from a difficult rookie season. He completed 50.8 percent of his passes for 2,214 yards, 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, and he has two new wide receivers to work with - free agent pickup Laurent Robinson and fifth overall pick Justin Blackmon, who made news this offseason for a DUI arrest and brief holdout.

"I think our guys want to see where we're at," said Mularkey, who spent the last four seasons as Atlanta's offensive coordinator. "We did some good things in the preseason. We just want to see if we can do that for four quarters. ... I think this will be a good test up there in this environment. I think it's going to be good for us to see where we're at."

Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder is also preparing for a better effort in his second year. He threw 13 TDs and 13 INTs last season after taking over the starting job from Donovan McNabb.

"We're putting that pressure on ourselves that we want to do a lot better than 3-13," Ponder said. "We want to make the playoffs. We want to be competitive in the NFC North."

But with Peterson's status unknown, plenty of questions in the secondary and a lack of a No. 2 receiver behind Percy Harvin - newcomer Jerome Simpson is suspended the first three games for a felony drug conviction for a marijuana shipment to his home last fall - the Vikings could face a tough time in a division with Green Bay, Chicago and Detroit.

"In most people's eyes, we're just not talented enough, not as good, not as experienced," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "... It's going to be exciting, because I think we're going to be a lot better than what people think we are, and I think that we have a chance."

The Vikings are expecting a big year from rookie left tackle Matt Kalil, the fourth overall pick who can seemingly only get better going against All-Pro Jared Allen in practice. Allen, who was one-half sack shy of tying the NFL single-season record of 22 1/2 last season, helped Minnesota tie for the most sacks in the league with 50.

The Jaguars allowed 44 sacks last season, tied for seventh-most in the NFL.

Minnesota improved to 3-1 against the Jaguars after winning 30-12 in its only visit to Jacksonville on Nov. 23, 2008.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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