METAIRIE, La. — Adrian Peterson sounds far more concerned with his ability to pick up the Saints’ dynamic offense than whether he can still run over and through would-be tacklers.
After getting a day off from practice on Saturday, Peterson dismissed the idea that he would need to play in a preseason game to demonstrate he was still physically capable of running the ball as powerfully as he did with the Minnesota Vikings for most of the past decade.
Still, he wants to play in the preseason to gauge how well he understands the concepts of a dynamic Saints offense that has consistently ranked among the NFL’s best for 11 straight seasons.
“I’m healthy, without a doubt,” Peterson asserted. “When it comes to the physical part of it, I don’t think that’s going to be an issue.”
“It’s more mentally fully understanding the offense because Drew Brees, he’s a general back there and he talks so fast when he calls plays.
With minimal tackling allowed at Saints training camp so far, the 32-year old Peterson hasn’t had many chances to demonstrate the extent to which he still possesses one of the most renowned aspects of his game — the ability to use a combination of hard cuts, leverage and strength to shake off tacklers and get extra yards — sometimes in bunches.
Yet coach Sean Payton said a lack of tackling hasn’t entirely undermined his ability to evaluate what kind of production he can expect from Peterson, a seven-time 1,000-yard rusher who once rushed for more than 2,000 yards in a season. But he also missed most of last season with the Vikings because of a knee injury.
“I feel pretty comfortable with where I think he is,” Payton said, adding that evaluating Peterson is “further down on the list of my concerns.”
“We tell some of these veteran players, ‘We don’t have to see it every day, but we have to see it.’ And I’ve seen it,” Payton said.
The Saints don’t need Peterson to be what he was in Minnesota, which happens to be the team hosting the Saints in Week 1 of the regular season. New Orleans’ scheme is different and incumbent starter Mark Ingram is coming off one of the best seasons of his career.
Peterson said he can sense the public fascination with how he’ll fit Payton’s scheme and embraces what he calls a “two-headed monster” concept with both he and Ingram spearheading the running game.
“I’m excited about it. I definitely feel it. I feel the energy,” Peterson said. “It’s different.”
After more than a week of training camp practices, Peterson’s new teammates continue to rave about how the club’s new 6-foot-1, 220-pound power runner looks.
“Even without tackling, you can tell,” veteran offensive lineman Khalif Barnes said.
“You don’t want to be a safety trying to tackle that guy,” Barnes continued. “It doesn’t look like the knee’s bothering him at all. He looks like the Adrian of old, which excites the hell out of me.”
Defensive end Cameron Jordan said he has been impressed by Peterson’s ability to quickly recognize when a blocker is losing leverage and adjust accordingly.
“It’s one thing (for a defensive end) to control the tight end. It’s another thing to have a running back to see that you’re controlling him, be able to fake inside like he’s going toward you and be able to cut the way he does,” Jordan said.
The Saints open the preseason at Cleveland on Thursday night, and it’s unclear if or how much Peterson might play.
In the meantime, Peterson said he has been trying to take a comprehensive approach to training and his diet in order to maximize his health.
While researching healthy eating on the internet, he decided to try eating predominantly vegan meals, although his love of Southern cooking doesn’t make it easy.
“It’s been rough,” Peterson said, recalling a recent instance in which he passed by a one of the fried chicken franchises in the area. “That three-piece looked so good. So, I stopped and had it.
“So I would say I’m like 80-20 vegan,” Peterson continued, laughing at himself as he said it, “But really, just being more cautious and aware of what I’m putting in my body.”
Whatever Peterson’s doing, the Saints clearly like the way he looks.
NOTES: WR Willie Snead remained absent from a second straight practice. … CB Marshon Lattimore, the NFL’s 11th overall draft pick last spring, was present at practice for the first time in nearly a week but worked off to the side on his own as he continues to rehabilitate what Payton has described as a “tweaked” knee. … TE Coby Fleener also was present at practice but not participating because of an undisclosed injury earlier this week. … Several players left the field late in practice, which was held in hot, muggy conditions. They included DT Sheldon Rankins, RG Larry Warford and LB A.J. Klein. Their ailments were not discussed specifically, but Payton said several players, without naming them, left practice early because of dehydration or cramping. … Barnes, who wears a watch that monitors his physical activity during practice, said he didn’t entirely mind the heat because his watch indicated that he could “eat more pizza tonight.”