Stephen Weatherly was a rookie defensive end on the Vikings practice squad for much of the 2016 season, so there seemed to be no compelling reason for star running back Adrian Peterson to take him under his wing.
But Peterson did, and Weatherly is grateful.
Peterson, a Vikings team captain in 2016, returns to Minnesota on Thursday as the top running back with Washington for a 7:20 p.m. kickoff at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“When I was a rookie, he shared some of the things that people should do and shouldn’t do,” said Weatherly, who got into two games late in the 2016 season and is now in his fourth Vikings season. “It didn’t matter if it was offense or defense, young guy or older guy, he had something for somebody. … I was a rookie and I didn’t know anything, and he talked about a lot of stuff.’’
Weatherly said Peterson, who starred with the Vikings from 2007-16, gave him plenty of advice that has helped him in his career.
“He talked about always taking care of your body, no matter what, even if it is the most tedious thing,” Weatherly said. “He said whether it’s ice baths, massages, you’ve got to do it. He talked about becoming a true student of the game. He said for every hour of practice film you watch, watch two hours of opponent film. So, it was just things like that to set up to have good habits. He was a cool dude.”
Peterson, 34, has become legendary for how well he takes care of his body, and it continues to show. Last year in Washington, he rushed for 1,042 yards to become the fourth-oldest running back in NFL history to reach 1,000 yards.
Peterson ran for just 108 yards in the first five games this season, but after Jay Gruden was fired as coach and replaced by Bill Callahan on an interim basis, Peterson became a focal part of the offense. He has 199 yards in two games under Callahan.
“One thing that I learned in my time around Adrian is never to bet against him and never to count him out,” said Minnesota tight end Kyle Rudolph, Peterson’s teammate from 2011-16. “Adrian is one of those just freak of nature, special athletes, but also works harder than anyone I know.”
Rudolph pointed to how Peterson tore an ACL in Week 16 of the 2011 season, then defied the odds to come back and rush for 2,097 yards — second-most in NFL history — in 2012 and be named NFL MVP. With that in mind, there seems to be little doubt that Peterson will play after suffering an ankle injury in last Sunday’s 9-0 loss to San Francisco.
Peterson was listed as questionable for Thursday but said Tuesday he plans to play “for sure.”
It will be Peterson’s second game against the Vikings since they declined to re-sign him as a free agent in March 2017. In the 2017 opener at U.S. Bank Stadium, Peterson had just six carries for 18 yards as a member of the New Orleans Saints.
Peterson figures memories will be flowing Thursday. He talked about some this week, including the NFL-record 296 yards he gained in 2007 against San Diego at the Metrodome.
“What I remember is meeting Prince after the game,” Peterson said. “That was one of my great memories. He was a Vikings fan. The 2009 season (when Minnesota reached the NFC Championship Game), all the home games were just amazing. The fans, it was always sold out. Every seat. And they just came and supported and chose so much love.”
Rudolph figures Peterson will “get a really warm welcome” Thursday.
Like Weatherly, wide receiver Adam Thielen was on the practice squad when he first spent time around Peterson. Thielen, who first joined the Vikings in 2013 before making the active roster in 2014, said the running back always had time for him.
“He was a great teammate, always so helpful,” said Thielen, who won’t play Thursday because of a hamstring injury. “He wasn’t a guy that was too big for anybody, which I think is really cool, because he’s one of the best players ever to play the game.”