EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — The morning of the team's first day back together from the bye week, a text message buzzed on Minnesota Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell's phone.
It was from Patrick Peterson. The veteran cornerback was encouraging O'Connell to call a meeting of the player leadership group, to make sure the importance of resuming practice and training routines in an urgent and focused manner would be thoroughly communicated.
“When that's one of your players doing that, that goes a long way,” O'Connell said.
Prior to being hired by the Vikings this season, O'Connell was well aware of Peterson's reputation around the NFL as an exemplary professional and savvy leader. The coach has naturally been even more impressed up close with Peterson's value to the defense and the locker room.
Having left the Arizona Cardinals as a free agent last year, Peterson has been asked to learn a third scheme in as many seasons with defensive coordinator Ed Donatell favoring using zone match and two-deep safety coverages while frequently employing pre-snap and early play disguises.
In Minnesota's most recent game in Miami, the offense punted 10 times. The Vikings thus leaned on Peterson and the defense harder than they have all year, with speedsters Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle at wide receiver for the Dolphins in the South Florida afternoon heat.
Peterson had an interception and three pass breakups in the 24-16 win. O'Connell assessed the performance as his best of the season.
“Our team could feel it. His energy was really a deciding factor for us on a hot day down there in Miami,” O'Connell said. “Every snap, he just kept getting better and better and better.”
Said Peterson: “I don’t know if the old man was feeling a little bit looser than normal, but I felt great. I just want to continue trending in the right direction.”
Even if he might not be as dominant in his 12th season as he was while being voted to the All-Pro team in three of his first five years, Peterson can clearly still play this vital position, too. The decrease in man-to-man press coverage that he played throughout his 10 seasons with the Cardinals has helped reduce the wear and tear on his body and provided more opportunity to capitalize on his keen vision of the field and instinct for the ball.
“The body feels great. The energy level is always going to be there, and just my passion and my fire to not only be my best but to try to be the best out of my teammates,” Peterson said Thursday, three days before the Vikings host the Cardinals. “That’s the joy that I get out of it: putting that fire into others and helping them reach their full potential.”
Peterson's mentorship of fellow starting cornerback Cameron Dantzler Sr. has been a big part of that. His presence in practice has been a benefit to the entire offense, too, his experience and awareness fueling a cat-and-mouse game with Kirk Cousins in the passing attack.
“He is an intelligent player, and you can see that. He’s not going to make it easy on you or telegraph where he’s going, who he’s taking away and who he is going to give up to you as the throw,” Cousins said. “At times, he can make you a little uncertain of ‘Should I try to fit that down the field or should I just take the flat? What is he giving me here?’"
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