From Comcast SportsNetEDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) -- Playing in the season opener has been at the forefront of Adrian Peterson's mind almost since he went down with a torn left ACL in the second-to-last game of the 2011 season.How long it has taken other running backs to return from the injury doesn't concern Peterson. The Minnesota Vikings' star running back has always seen himself as different from everyone else, and he has made it abundantly clear that he expects to play against Jacksonville on Sunday.He has one more week to make his case to Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and his staff.Frazier said on Monday that the Vikings would not make a decision on Peterson's status until game day, and he cautioned that even if Peterson does return, he shouldn't expect the workload he carried before he was injured just yet."We recognize if he's able to get in this first ballgame, it'll be with limited exposure," Frazier said. "We'll talk about it as the week goes on and see how he's doing and if it's even a viable option to let him play."That means fewer carries than Peterson is used to getting as the workhorse and focal point of the Vikings' offense, and likely more work for backup Toby Gerhart.Perhaps the biggest obstacle the Vikings have in handling the situation is Peterson's state of mind. He has worked tirelessly to get himself prepared to help his team, throwing himself into the rehab process from the moment he came out of surgery. With his team coming off a disastrous 3-13 season, Peterson knows they need him in the backfield to have any chance, and the coaches know it, too."You really have to take the emotion out of it," Frazier said. "You have to really hone in on what's best for him, what's best for our team. Adrian is not just another guy on our team. He is in so many ways the face of what we try to do. We have to be able to see the big picture when it comes to him and that's the way we'll approach it."On a rebuilding team coming off of a last-place finish in one of the strongest divisions in the league, the Vikings may not need to rush him back. He felt like he was ready to play in the preseason, but coaches and the team's training staff preferred to take a more gradual approach."I'd love to have him out there, that goes without saying for our entire team," center John Sullivan said. "But at the same time it's out of our hands. I hope he is. But if not, we've got to go forward with the guys that are ready to go."Peterson wasn't available for comment Monday, but he did participate in practice. Coaches will be especially interested to see how he handles himself in Thursday's padded practice."We have to see him get through some things and see how he handles certain things from a mental and physical standpoint," Frazier said. "It's different when there is no endpoint, in his case he knew a few weeks ago he wasn't going to play in the preseason. Now the mindset changes a little bit and we have to see how he handles that."Gerhart emerged as a capable fill-in for Peterson after the injury, the kind of physical runner who gets better as the game goes on and the carries increase. Gerhart had just 24 carries in the first 10 games last season, but his work load increased over the final six games as the Vikings faded from contention.As the carries increased, Gerhart's production did as well. He rushed for 91 yards on 21 carries and caught eight passes for another 42 yards against Denver on Dec. 4, then picked up another 90 yards on 19 carries the following week against Detroit.Peterson went down two weeks later in Washington and Gerhart came through with 11 carries for 109 yards, the first time he's topped 100 yards in a game in his two NFL seasons, and showed that he is up to the task in the NFL."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."NOTES:CB Josh Robinson (concussion) and S Mistral Raymond (back) returned to practice after missing the preseason finale. Frazier said they should be ready to play on Sunday. The only player whose chances are questionable right now appears to be backup LB Marvin Mitchell, who has a high ankle sprain. ... The Vikings signed OL Kevin Murphy, DL Ernest Owusu, WR Tori Gurley and WR Chris Summers to the practice squad.
FOXBORO – We’ve mentioned – a few thousand times – that the Patriots have a fleet of key free agents up at the end of the 2016 season.
There’s Jamie Collins, Donta Hightower, Jabaal Sheard, Duron Harmon, Martellus Bennett and Logan Ryan. Malcolm Butler, meanwhile, will be a restricted free agent. How does the team maintain its laser-focus on the games of 2016 while knowing that – if these business decisions aren’t addressed – the games of 2017 could look starkly different.
I asked Bill Belichick Friday morning about stealing a glance at the business side of things and planning for the future while the season’s ongoing.
“In general there’s some team planning you can do,” Belichick said after noting the team’s immediate focus is currently on Sunday’s game with the Bills. “Sometimes, if you can work out a contract with a player during the season – we’ve done that with various players – if you can work it out, you work it out. If you can’t, then there’ve been a number of players that we’ve signed – our players – that we signed once free agency has started. Devin [McCourty] to pick a name.
“I don’t think you can be afraid of free agency,” Belichick continued. “It’s not like if a guy gets to free agency you can’t re-sign him. You’re in a competitive market but, you know, you’re in a competitive market anyway.”
There are things that occur now, that could occur this weekend that can drastically impact every plan laid. It’s my impression that the Patriots are slow-playing this free agent class. Waving lucrative extensions in front of players before knowing how they’ll make it through this season and before knowing what their appeal will be on the open market is short-term satisfaction.
It will satisfy the players who want the security and it will squelch hand-wringing that EVERYBODY’S GOING TO LEAVE in the media.
Long-term, it’s risky.
Consider Donta Hightower. He’s got a knee issue that’s kept him down two games. He played three-quarters of the year in 2014 and 2015 and this year isn’t trending better. He brings absolutely everything the Patriots want in a player except the durability. The onus is on them to factor that into any contract offer they extend. Meanwhile, the onus is on Hightower to – if he isn’t getting what he and his agent feel he can command – to find out if another team will give him different terms if the Patriots’ aren’t suitable.
As Belichick pointed out, “These guys know that they have other options depending on who the player is and what the situation is. They have other options but we know there’s only so much money to go around. If you can work it out, then you have that security. If you can’t then you have your options. They have their options, we have our options. That’s professional sports. I don’t think that’s anything revolutionary. I don’t think it’s different than any other pro football team or any other pro team. You see the same in all the other sports.”
In general, the Patriots have shrewd free agent operators. Pulling the ripcord on Darrelle Revis and Wes Welker were two of the tougher calls made in recent years. Both decisions caused howling from the fanbase and predictions of doom from the media. Both were prescient decisions.
Teams splinter when the seasons end. And the second-guessing about the business decisions is inevitable.
“It’s been that way … since we had free agency,” he said. “That’s what it is. That’s the way it is in all sports. Basketball season’s over, you’re talking about a few guys going here, going there, staying with their team, whatever. You’re not gonna be able to get around that. Even if we were to sign a couple of those guys or whatever that is, there’s gonna be a couple of guys that aren’t so you can talk about those. Same thing we come in here Monday after every game. Somebody had production [but media asks], ‘But what about these guys this guy didn’t catch that many passes, this guy didn’t get that many carries.’ There’s always those guys to ask about. There’s no simple answer to it.”
This season, the questions seem even more challenging.
BRIGHTON, Mass. – Ryan Spooner quickly ticked off face-offs as one big area that needed improvement headed into his second full NHL season with the Bruins and the speedy young center has most definitely put in the work thus far in camp.
Still, it didn’t translate in Spooner’s first preseason game in Wednesday night’s lopsided loss to the Red Wings as he finished 4-for-16 on the draw, and to add insult to injury: he also served a two-minute minor penalty for a face-off violation that led to a power-play goal.
The skilled center made up for it at the other end by setting up a score for fellow speed-demon center Austin Czarnik as Boston’s only goal, but he was again back out on the Warrior Ice Arena sheet working on his draws again Thursday.
“I wasn’t great on my face-offs [against Detroit] trying to cheat a little bit too much. I think I just need to maybe just bear down a little bit more,” said Spooner, who finished at a very lackluster 42.8 percent success rate on face-offs last season. “[I need to] not try to win them clean, maybe just tie them up a little bit more. I was just trying to cheat on those [face-offs], and it didn’t work.”
Clearly, the draws were a contributing part of the problem in the rough loss to the Red Wings and it’s something Spooner will need to iron out before he’s fully trusted by the coaching in the nitty-gritty situations late in games. That was obvious at times last season. It’s something Spooner wants to change this season when there’s so much competition at the center spot, with Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, David Backes, Dominic Moore, Noel Acciari, Riley Nash and Czarnik all considered natural centers.
“When you start with the puck then the game is so much easier,” said B’s assistant coach Bruce Cassidy. “For Spooner [face offs] are important. I don’t want to speak for Claude [Julien], but he does have the luxury now of playing Spooner with guys that can take draws in his place if he wants to go down that road.
“At some point he’s going to have to improve [on the draw]. I think he wants to [improve on the draw] and he’s working at it, but the numbers aren’t where they need to be for him obviously. That’s the challenge Claude has going forward, but I think he can still get out on the ice and help you, even if he’s deficient in the face-off circle, and if he has some wingers that can help him.”
Spooner has employed veteran center Moore to give him some pointers while the two have worked out together in training camp and, in theory, it should be a big help for the young third-line center. Moore is one of those trusted veterans that is used in key face off situations with positive results, and is a left-shot player who can show the 24-year-old the exact techniques to help him.
Spooner said that getting face-off tips from Bergeron or Krejci had a limit to its helpfulness because those are right-handed centers doing the absolute reverse technique that a left-shot center would employ. Moore downplayed his role as a bit of a face off mentor, but the statistics, and his reputation on the draw would indicate he’s got plenty of knowledge to offer a second-year player.
“There are a lot of little things in the game, face-offs being one of them, that you learn through experience, and you want to try to pass it along to help make the team better,” said Moore. “[Spooner] is eager to try and improve a little bit every day. Part of face-offs is trying to get an edge any way that you can because they’re such a hotly contested thing.
“It’s definitely not easy, but if you have the right mentality then you try and build it up. You just have to approach it on a daily basis, commit to it and try to improve as best you can.”
Like so many things in life it would seem face-off ability is about putting in the work as much as it’s about natural-born skill and Spooner is putting in the hours to be a more complete center and trusted part of the team.