The closer the Detroit Lions get to Sunday’s season opener against the Chicago Bears, the more likely it seems Adrian Peterson will play a significant role on offense.
Peterson laughed Thursday when asked if the Lions told him he could be their starting running back as soon as this weekend, but three days after he signed with his former division rival he did nothing to downplay that possibility.
[ The Free Press has started a digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Lions content. ]
“They’re asking me to do a lot,” Peterson said. “I don’t think we have really locked in exactly (on what my role will be), but what the obvious thing is, is what I’ve done for 14 years is run the ball well, catch the ball when I have the opportunity, pick up blocks.”
Peterson was the first running back up in individual drills at Thursday’s practice, though rookie D’Andre Swift spent part of the period working with the kick-return team.
The Lions are counting on Peterson, Swift and Kerryon Johnson to form the nucleus of their rushing attack this fall, though Swift has missed significant time this preseason with a hip injury and Johnson has been limited by a balky knee.
Swift was limited in practice Thursday.
“I think we have some great talent in the backfield,” Peterson said. “This young guy Swift, he’s been very impressive. Just watching him the past couple days and being able to talk to him, I remember him in college as well, so he’s very talented. Bo (Scarbrough) was a guy that I end up watching as well. Kerryon is a guy that I like as well. Right now, I know the past couple weeks he had been kind of battling with some stuff, but seeing him out there grinding and working, as well as seeing what he brings to the offense has been impressive. So I’m excited about our group as a whole and what we’re going to be able to do as a group to help this team be successful.”
[ Kerryon Johnson hasn’t asked for Adrian Peterson’s autograph — yet ]
Though he played his first four NFL seasons under Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell with the Minnesota Vikings, Peterson said the offense he’s stepping into now is “80, 85%” different from the one he excelled at early in his career.
Under Bevell, Peterson, the NFL’s fifth all-time leading rusher, averaged 1,446 yards and 13 touchdowns a season.
“Just a true professional,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “It’s pretty quick and pretty easy to tell why he’s been able to do what he’s done for so long. He’s got a great routine. I think that’s really good for the young guys to see, just as far as your preparation not only just from a mental standpoint and install, game plan and all that stuff, but just the physical preparation that he goes through to get his body ready to go. I think that’s outstanding.”
More: Bevell not sure what he’ll get from ‘freak of nature’ Peterson
Peterson said “two or three teams” expressed interest in signing him after he was released by Washington last week, but that he picked the Lions because of his familiarity with Bevell and his belief that he could be an immediate contributor on a potent offense in a division he was familiar with.
“Even though I have my time with Bev, coming from Washington and learning a totally new offense and then, bam, trying to cram so much in within two days now, two or three days, it’s been a whirlwind for me,” Peterson said. “So there’s a lot of things that I’m still learning. I’m investing time cause obviously when I got signed I wasn’t thinking about not playing this weekend, so we’ll see how things go.”
More on Peterson: Frank Ragnow freaks out after Lions sign his idol
Peterson touched on a number of other topics in a 20-minute video conference Thursday, his first interview with Detroit reporters since his signing. Among the highlights:
• He reiterated what he told USA TODAY in June, that he plans to kneel during the playing of the national anthem Sunday: “Personally, I plan on taking a knee and we got the support of our coach and everything going forward, but that has always kind of been my plan.”
• He said he’s “extremely excited” to play his old team, the Vikings, twice a year, but that playing Minnesota (plus Washington and the Arizona Cardinals, the other teams he’s played for) was not part of the reason he signed with the Lions. “I’m not that salty,” he said.
For subscribers: Lions game-by-game predictions: They have enough to make expanded playoffs?
• He called Matthew Stafford “an elite quarterback.” “I’ve always been a fan,” Peterson said. “I love how he plays. The grit he plays with, the toughness. Great arm, great accuracy. Ultimate competitor. And so I’ve always looked at that and seen that and just had respect strictly off of that.”
• He said his fondest memory of playing against the Lions was the 75-yard run he had in a 2015 game at Ford Field. “I remember that play like it was yesterday,” he said. “I remember just hitting the hole. I did a, bam, I stuck my left foot into the ground and got the free safety or linebacker to overflow and I was off to the races.”
[ Kenny Golladay has a hamstring injury, gets left off Hall of Famer’s top-10 WR list ]
• And he marveled at the opportunity to pass Barry Sanders for fourth on the NFL’s all-time rushing list — he needs 1,054 yards — could happen in Detroit. “It was kind of ironic that once that got brought to my attention that, hey, now I’m playing for Detroit and God willing, stay healthy, I will have the opportunity to pass him this year,” he said. “So, man, it’s kind of funny how things work themselves out.”
Contact Dave Birkett at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Lions content.