Vikings coach Mike Zimmer loves Adrian Peterson and feels for the star running back as he deals with the child abuse case pending against him, but he said Wednesday that his organization was right to deactivate the player for this Sunday’s game in New Orleans against the Saints.
“I think he’s one of my guys,” Zimmer remarked in a conference call with New Orleans media. “But ... I believe — in this situation, where everything is — this is the right way to go.”
Peterson was charged with reckless or negligent injury to a child by a grand jury after admitting to authorities that he struck his 4-year-old son with a tree branch. Peterson claimed to be disciplining his son the same way his own father disciplined him while growing up in Texas and didn’t intend any harm. The boy had marks and bruises on his thighs, backside and genitals.
Last year, in an unrelated incident, Peterson’s other son died in South Dakota after allegedly being beaten by another man.
The Vikings (1-1) left Peterson inactive for their 30-7 loss at home to the New England Patriots this past Sunday while they gathered more information on the running back’s indictment in Texas. On Monday, they announced that Peterson would practice for and play against the 0-2 Saints; but, after public pressure from sponsors and angry football fans, the Vikings in the middle of the night Tuesday said the three-time All-Pro running back would stay away from all team activities indefinitely by going on the exempt-commissioner’s permission list.
The NFL players union on Wednesday said Peterson took voluntary paid leave from the team to resolve his personal and legal issues.
Zimmer — in his first year as head coach of the Vikings — said he did not learn that Peterson would be unavailable for his team’s showdown with the Saints until late Tuesday.
Asked if he felt well-prepared to handle the Peterson matter, Zimmer responded: “I think we all try to do the very best job that we can. You don’t prepare for this happening. You don’t anticipate it. I wish there was a manual on all these different kinds of situations that come up. You just do what you think is right. You try to get your team ready to play the best you can.”
Zimmer said he believes the Vikings have other good offensive weapons in wide receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings as well as tight end Kyle Rudolph. Patterson is the most versatile of those three, as he had three rushing touchdowns, four receiving touchdowns and two scores off his returns as a rookie in 2013.
Patterson — a First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowler in 2013 — produced the longest play in NFL history with a 109-yard kickoff return for a score last season, when the Vikings won five games, lost 10 and tied one.
Zimmer added that his staff had a good opinion of the other running backs on the roster, one of which is Matt Asiata, in his fourth campaign with the Vikings as a reserve.
“Obviously, as coaches, we’re going to try our very best to figure out the strengths of our guys and mold our system to them,” he said.
Before wrapping up his briefing with New Orleans reporters, Zimmer spoke about the close relationship he built with Saints coach Sean Payton when they were both assistants in Dallas. Zimmer was in Dallas from 1994 to 2006, first as a defensive backs coach and then as the defensive coordinator.
Payton was in Dallas from 2003 to 2005 as an assistant head coach as well as quarterbacks coach before the Saints hired him as their head coach in 2006. Zimmer said he was golfing buddies with Payton and their children were friendly. Zimmer’s son, Adam, was a Saints assistant from 2006-09.
“Sean’s a good man, and a great coach,” Zimmer said.
As for Peterson, he has 10,190 ground yards and 86 rushing touchdowns in the 104 regular-season games he has played in an NFL career that began in 2007 with the Vikings. The former NFL MVP has lost two of the three regular-season games he’s played against the Saints in his career, and he suffered a defeat against New Orleans in an NFC Championship Game in January 2010.
The Saints won their lone Super Bowl title two weeks later.