After Adrian Peterson suffered a brutal knee injury in December of 2011, there were a number of questions brought up about the Minnesota Vikings running back. How much time would he miss? Would his repaired ACL and MCL be able to hold up with his physical style of play? Could he be the same elite running back that he was before the injury?
In 2012, all of those questions were answered with a resounding, "Yes."
Not only did Peterson return in time to play all 16 games for the Vikings last season, but he ran for a ridiculous 2,097 yards, coming up just 8 yards short of tying the all-time single-season rushing record set by Eric Dickerson in 1984. The University of Oklahoma product ran for at least 100 yards in 10 games, and only got stronger as the season went on, en route to winning the 2012 NFL MVP award.
But after spraining his foot last weekend against the Baltimore Ravens, Peterson's health has once again presented a question, this time for the Eagles defense. Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier said earlier this week that Peterson, as well as backup running back Toby Gerhart (hamstring), won't practice until Friday at the earliest, but the Eagles are preparing for Sunday's matchup as if the reigning league MVP will suit up in purple and gold.
"We prepare for healthy at every position and we'll make adjustments if we feel the game plan changes," head coach Chip Kelly said on Thursday. "I think when you watch Minnesota, their game plan doesn't change if Adrian doesn't play because Toby is a similar type back, but we're preparing as if he's going to play."
Whenever an opposing player's health has made his status unknown heading into the game - such as Dallas' DeMarco Murray or Detroit's Reggie Bush - the Eagles coaching staff has always erred on the side of caution.
"We prepare that all people that are in question, if we don't know if they are healthy, we're going to get their best, all of them are up, and we're going to prepare that way," said defensive coordinator Bill Davis. "And then we'll adjust as the week goes on and we get more information, just like we would during a game. If something happens to one of those guys during a game, we would adjust accordingly, like we did in this game where all of a sudden at the last minute Reggie Bush wasn't up."
Peterson's 1,221 rushing yards on the season ranks second best in the NFL, behind only LeSean McCoy's 1,305. Whether or not A.D. (as in "All Day") lines up in the Minnesota backfield or not on Sunday, the Eagles are making sure that their preparation stays the same as it has been all season long. The loss of Peterson would be a big blow to Minnesota's offense, but the Eagles know that there is more talent than just Peterson on Minnesota's roster.
"We still have to go out and play solid football," said linebacker DeMeco Ryans. "We still have to play our defense the way that we know how to play it. I feel like they have a good offensive line, a good fullback and guys who can block well. They still have guys capable of running the ball, so we still have to do our job."
"It's not really that different for us," echoed cornerback Brandon Boykin. "We just prepare for whoever the running back might be. We know who their backups are and we know the guys who will be playing if he doesn't play, so we'll be prepared."
No matter how much action Peterson sees on the practice field during the week, the Eagles defenders know that a lot could change by the Sunday's 1 p.m. kickoff. Just ask linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who wouldn't be too surprised to see Peterson, or Gerhart for that matter, in the backfield come game time.
"I'm practicing like they are playing," Kendricks said. "That doesn't mean anything to me or to the rest of these guys. For all we know, they could be not playing today and in there tomorrow. We know how this league works. Some people feel like they have to play instead of taking a step back. We're preparing like they are playing."