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Patrick Peterson Points to Ed Donatell Partnership as Key Reason for Return

EAGAN, Minn. — Patrick Peterson said Monday that his decision to return to Minnesota for a second season was a fairly easy one.

The veteran cornerback will now be back in Purple after joining the squad in 2021, when he transitioned after spending the first decade of his career with the Cardinals.

Peterson explained the reasons for his return Monday at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center on the first day of the Vikings offseason program.

"Just the players, the ownership and seeing how much they care about the guys that they're investing into. The atmosphere. The culture. Just everything about it," Peterson said. "I feel like Minnesota really took me and my family in. And I feel like we had something really good going here. We just needed to get led in a different direction. I think the Wilf family did a great job bringing in some great leaders and great innovators on the offensive and defensive side of the ball to see if they can take us to where we want to be.

"I wanted to be a part of that because a majority of the team was coming back and the core of the team was going to be back. I didn't want to go anywhere and try to learn a lot of new faces and a whole new scheme and this that and the other," Peterson added. "I thought it was an easy decision to come back here with the guys I was able to grow a rapport with."

Yes, Peterson will be surrounded by some familiar faces with the Vikings, including veteran safety Harrison Smith, and some new ones, too.

"I'm excited to have a veteran guy in the DBs room," said Vikings cornerback Chandon Sullivan, who signed with the team last month. "It's crazy, it just shows his longevity, I remember watching him when I was in high school, college. Watching his college tape at LSU and the DBU era.

"Now to be in the same locker room and same meeting room, it's wild. It's crazy," Sullivan added. "Even my friends can't believe it. They were like, 'How's Pat Pete?' And I said, 'I'll let you know when I meet him.' "

Smith added: "He's a significant presence. Not only on the field but just around the building. He's able to be a little bit of a mentor for guys. Like Sully was saying, he said he watched him all the way back in high school. I'm older than Pat, by like a year, and I feel like I watched him in high school. He's been doing it at a high level for a long time."

But it wasn't just teammates that drew Peterson back to Minnesota. Even though the Vikings have a new coaching staff, a familiar face helped influence Peterson's decision.

Peterson referenced an old meetup with Vikings Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell from over a decade ago, noting the two formed a connection that still lasts.

"I've been in this league going on 12 years now. I've kind of ran across pretty much every coach that's on the coaching staff now," Peterson said. "A quick story about Ed, he recruited me when he was the defensive backs coach in San Francisco, and he was also the last coach to work me out when he was in San Francisco.

"Me and him had a rapport over the years. I played against him when he was in San Francisco. I played against him when he was with the Bears. We just always kept in contact," Peterson added. "Just watching the scheme that he's always been around, it travels very well. No matter where he went, the numbers spoke for themselves. When I saw he was coming [here], I was like, 'This would be a great opportunity to finally get to play for Coach Ed.' The opportunity presented itself and now I'm here."

Peterson later added that he and Donatell sometimes didn't even talk ball when they would cross paths. And that it was Donatell's friendly nature that helped them bond.

"Just his personality, Coach is a people's person. Just always had great juice and positive energy," Peterson said. "You could just tell he's a guy that wants to get to know the person. He couldn't care less about the football player. He wanted to get to know Patrick Peterson the person.

"Literally every time we met, he always asked about my family. It was never about the game," Peterson added. "It was all about, 'How's the family? What's your next move? Hopefully one day I get to coach you because you were one of my favorites when I had the opportunity to recruit you when I was with San Fran.' Just things like that. Just seemed like a very genuine person, and it's hard to not want to be around those kinds of people."

View photos of Vikings players returning to the TCO Performance Center to begin the 202 offseason program.

Peterson will now get his chance to work with one of his favorites in 2022 as the Vikings transition to a different defensive scheme that they ran in Peterson's first season here, and for most of the past decade.

The 31-year-old said he was encouraged by his play in 2021, when he started all 13 games he played (missing four combined contests due to a hamstring injury and landing on the Reserve/COVID-19 list).

Peterson recorded one interception, taking it to the house in the season finale, and was also credited with five passes defensed and two tackles for loss.

"I thought I played solid. With the opportunities that I did get I thought that I played to the best of my ability. I thought I improved on my tackling," Peterson said. "It's hard to get in a groove when you get two targets a game. It's just hard, you know. When I was getting 80, 90 targets a [year] it's much easier to get into a groove.

"[Last year], you get a target in the first quarter, not another one until the third, it's kind of difficult. For me it's all about myself trying to stay mentally focused because I never knew when that play was going to happen," Peterson added. "I think last year, I had 68 targets or something like that. It's kind of tough to make plays on 68 targets. Hopefully I get more targets."

Peterson's target share remains to be seen, but it's a sure thing that he'll be counted upon to once again lead Minnesota's cornerback room.

He was a team captain in 2021 and could be in line to have that title again, all while helping the defense transition under Donatell, for whom Peterson has anticipated playing.

"Coach Ed is always open about taking input from coaches, players. Because at the end of the day, that's how you get better, you continue to learn from one another, continue to get feedback to sharpen a certain skill or to sharpen a certain area," Peterson said. "Coach Ed has been open to that, and that's part of the reason that we've been having those conversations over the last couple of weeks.

"Because he understands that I was here with these guys last year, being the older guy, wanting to understand what certain players might like to do, some of the things that I may like to do, giving me the philosophy of the defense, him telling me his expectations to get the message through to young guys and things like that," Peterson added. "This has been the first day, and all we talked about is literally partnership and that's what these guys want this to be about, partnership. Everybody is in this together and everybody has a hand in it. Looking for this partnership to take us very far."