This isn’t Adrian Peterson’s first time joining a new team on the fly.
It was a big deal when the former NFL MVP suited up for the New Orleans Saints in 2017, his first time not wearing Minnesota Vikings purple since entering the league. But five weeks into the season, New Orleans traded him to the running back-needy Arizona Cardinals.
When Peterson signed with the Washington Redskins just two weeks ago, it represented a much later start to his 2018 campaign than he had last year. But his brief time in Arizona helped him prepare for the quick jump into the regular season that lies ahead.
“Based on how that season went, being in Arizona on a Tuesday and playing and starting Sunday, it gave me a good feel coming in,” Peterson told The Washington Times. “I had the training camp in New Orleans, so that’s a little different (in Washington), not having any kind of training camp or anything like that, or OTAs. But I feel like I’ve adjusted well so far.”
If Peterson, 33, starts for the Redskins in Week 1 — against his most recent employer, the Cardinals — Washington could be one of just three NFL teams to start players at both quarterback and running back who were not on their roster last year. Two rebuilding teams, the New York Jets (Sam Darnold and Isaiah Crowell) and the Cleveland Browns (either Tyrod Taylor or Baker Mayfield along with Carlos Hyde) are the other candidates.
No one is saying Washington is in rebuilding mode, but that only makes this offense’s situation all the more unique. Major changes at major positions could mean major adjustments are still ahead — or it could mean a rejuvenated offensive attack and a breath of fresh air.
In fact, “a breath of fresh air” is the precise wording owner Dan Snyder used last week to describe Alex Smith taking over at quarterback, another not-so-subtle shot by the team at Kirk Cousins. The Redskins acquired Smith from Kansas City last winter for cornerback Kendall Fuller and a third-round draft pick.
In a side-by-side comparison of their 2017 campaigns, Smith slightly beat out Cousins in yards per attempt and completion percentage, but Smith’s biggest strength may be avoiding turnovers — as illustrated by a remarkable 26-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio last year.
Some have been wringing their hands over whether Smith played enough reps in the preseason to gel with his new offense, but the quarterback said he feels comfortable the Redskins have “made the most of every day” of practice.
“I don’t think necessarily playing however many more (preseason) snaps come opener necessarily makes that big of a difference at this point in my career,” Smith said. “I think we’ve gotten great work in camp. From day one, there’s been a sense of urgency every day.”
Peterson, meanwhile, will be helping the Redskins try to improve on last year’s mark of 90.5 rushing yards per game, fifth-worst in the NFL. With rookie Derrius Guice on injured reserve, Rob Kelley, Chris Thompson and Samaje Perine all returned to the 53-man roster as well.
Peterson had breakfast with Smith on his second day at Redskins Park, and Smith welcomed him to the team — almost ironic, in that it has only been Smith’s team since March when the trade was finalized.
“I’ve been a fan of his from afar for a long time and obviously watched him play a lot of games from the other sideline and (it’s) cool to share a backfield with him, but other than that, this isn’t really a time necessarily for reflection like that,” Smith said. “(I’m) pumped to play together. We’re both trying to go out and prove something. We’re both trying to go help this team win ball games, doing everything that we can to do that.”
Peterson thinks Smith faces a more challenging time settling in than he does because of what the quarterback position entails.
“For him, I know it’s a little more difficult because he’s the head man,” Peterson said. “He’s running the show offensively. Him adjusting through the season, the offensive line and just everything, (my job) is a little easier.”
Smith will have two high-caliber tight ends in Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis to throw to, which hopefully will remind him of his favorite Chiefs target, Travis Kelce. Smith and Davis go back to their heydays in San Francisco. On the outside, the Redskins added another new face, Paul Richardson, to their starting receiving corps of Josh Doctson and Jamison Crowder.
Even on the offensive line, something new is afoot. The personnel itself didn’t change much, but at the moment, its health is drastically improved. Eleven different linemen started at least two games in 2017 due to decimating injuries. Right tackle Morgan Moses was the only one to make it all 16 games.
The only update happened at center. Former starter Spencer Long left in free agency, and Chase Roullier was promoted to the first string.
Taken together, this offense is a far cry from the unit that wrapped up the 2017 season ranked 20th by Football Outsiders in the advanced metric of offensive DVOA. But will the changes mean instant improvement, or is there not enough time for the new pieces to gel?
“You gotta make it happen,” Peterson said. “You’ve got to jump into the situation and take advantage of it. With all this change, you have to be able to adjust.”