- Associated Press - Thursday, December 15, 2016

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) - Adrian Peterson’s return to practice has brought much optimism to the Vikings late in the regular season.

Peterson has been wearing a brace supporting the right knee, which underwent meniscus surgery earlier this season.

Peterson and the Vikings (7-6) are tempering any thought of a swift return for this Sunday against Indianapolis.

Speaking on Thursday for the first time since returning to practice, Peterson didn’t hold firm to any return date, but acknowledged his hope of being back on Dec. 24 against the rival Green Bay Packers.

“That was the goal I had set for me, so I’m just going to continue to take it one day at a time,” Peterson said.

“When that time comes, as a group, we’ll sit down and talk and see which direction it’s best to go in.”

Peterson said he’s felt good in his return to practice and the reports were encouraging from coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.

However, there are many factors in determining when Peterson can return to game action.

Zimmer said Peterson went through a full practice but “needs to continue to work.” Peterson said he’s still gauging the progress of his knee as well as getting into game shape. Then there’s also the aspect that Peterson is 31 years old and is owed $11.75 million base salary next season in the final year of his contract, along with an $18 million salary cap figure.

Hoping to regain full health and continue on his Hall of Fame-type pace, Peterson said the future is also on his mind.

“I would be lying to you to say that it’s not factoring in,” Peterson said. “Of course, that will be something that goes into that circle of so many things to consider.”

Peterson isn’t returning to the same offense, either. Norv Turner was the offensive coordinator when Peterson went down and has since resigned, leading to Shurmur taking the lead of the offense.

“There’s still a lot of stuff that remains the same, just a couple wrinkles in there that’s a little different,” Peterson said.

Peterson had 50 yards rushing and a 1.6 yards-per-carry average in the first two games before tearing the meniscus and opting for surgery.

Without him, the Vikings haven’t established much of a ground game with Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata.

Minnesota has dealt with injuries along the offensive line, too, with starting tackles Matt Kalil and Andre Smith out for the season.

The Vikings are one game behind Tampa Bay for the final wild-card spot in the NFC, despite ranking last in the league in rushing with a 73.4-yard average.

“They’re certainly some new things that we’re doing that he’s not as familiar with,” Shurmur said. “He’s been in meetings. He’s been around. He’s somewhat familiar with what we’re doing, but knowing it and actually going out and executing it are two different things.”

Peterson said he plans to continue to wear the brace and will do so in games. In the past, he’s preferred to play without any type of brace.

As Peterson and Zimmer both said, the team’s medical staff will play a big role in determining the date of any potential return.

“In my mind, I’m telling myself that it’s 100 percent healed,” Peterson said. “But I really won’t know until I look and see from images. With that, got to be smart about how you approach everything going ahead.”

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For more NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL .

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