EAGAN, Minn. — It was almost as certain as Patrick Peterson being available — he'd never missed a game due to injury in 10 seasons with the Cardinals — that he'd use his time on the sidelines to emerge better once he's able to return to the lineup.
The veteran cornerback injured his hamstring late in Week 6 at Carolina. He initially hoped it was a cramp, but an MRI the following day confirmed a problem that would last longer.
Peterson attacked his rehab during Minnesota's Week 7 bye and over the course of the past three weeks while he has been on Injured Reserve. The Vikings designated him for return, and he practiced for the first time on Wednesday, one month after suffering the injury.
On Thursday Peterson spoke with media members to explain the past few weeks.
"It definitely was tough for me," Peterson said. "But the easiest way to not lose focus or not lose engagement was continuing to study as if I was playing and helping the young guys with a couple of nuggets I could give them throughout the week of preparation to help them play a little bit faster to go out there and be successful on the field. It definitely was miserable, something I've never had to do before, but thank God it's over."
Peterson requested a headset so he could listen to Head Coach Mike Zimmer call the defense against the Cowboys, Ravens and Chargers. He also traveled to Baltimore and Los Angeles in the past two weeks, even though he was required to miss those three games at a minimum because of his placement on Injured Reserve.
"I understand how Coach calls the game throughout the flow of the game," Peterson said. "You know, kind of get a beat, trying to get a feel for the offense and understand how you want to call certain defenses, understand when you want to send pressure.
"When you're in the game, you can't really hear the calls," he continued. "You're just waiting for the call to come out, so being on the sideline and able to hear the call and hear him relay the message to Nick [Vigil] or Anthony [Barr] … it was a lot more eye-opening for me to understand and kind of see where Coach is coming from when he calls certain things."
Vigil and Barr have handled "green dot" responsibilities as the player with an in-helmet communications device that receives calls from the sideline.
Peterson opened practices by accompanying teammates for stretching in the weeks that he was on Injured Reserve.
"I wanted to stay in the routine. I got here very early each and every day while I was on IR, so I had the opportunity to get all the treatment and rehab out of the way early," Peterson said. "I just wanted to be around the guys and let them know, 'I'm still here to help you guys, I'm still here to motivate you, and whatever you need from me, I'm still here for you guys.' "
View photos of Vikings players from practice on Nov. 18 at the TCO Performance Center.
The Vikings have a three-week window in which to evaluate Peterson before they must make a decision to activate or leave him on Injured Reserve for the rest of the season, but he said he feels "great" and will follow the plan with Zimmer and the Vikings athletic training staff.
"We'll see how the week goes," Assistant Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson said. "Hopefully he can go and hopefully [Harrison Smith] can go. Those are two guys that have played a lot of football and understand what you're trying to do, but we'll see how the week plays out and whether they can go or not."
Co-Defensive Coordinator Adam Zimmer added that Peterson has "looked good" in his return.
"He's working back into his conditioning and all that. We challenged him today on a couple long balls, and he covered them well. I think he looks like he's ready to go."
If he can, he will participate in his first Border Battle between the Vikings and Packers. Peterson can lean on previous experience against Green Bay.
While with Arizona, Peterson faced the Packers thrice in regular-season games (2012, 2015 and 2018) and once in an epic 26-20 Cardinals victory in the Divisional Round of the NFC Playoffs after the 2015 season.
Peterson helped the Cardinals limit Rodgers to 15-of-28 passing for 151 yards and a passer rating of 66.2 in the 2015 regular season when Arizona sacked the QB eight times. He also was on-hand in the postseason when Rodgers converted a fourth-and-20 with a 60-yard pass to Jeff Janis and connected with Janis on a 41-yard touchdown pass with five seconds remaining to force overtime.
He said he learned "that you've got to defend every second on the entire clock" when facing Rodgers.
"He's never out of the game. I had the opportunity to be on the good side and also be on the bad side, but Aaron is a very, very talented quarterback, probably one of the best quarterbacks to throw the football — back-shoulder fades and his ability to throw his receivers open, his arm power," Peterson said. "He's pretty much a — you want to be a quarterback, you kind of want to follow some of the things that Aaron Rodgers has done and some of the things he's able to do."