Deuce: Saints aren’t asking Adrian Peterson to ‘fly the plane’

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Charlie Neibergal, AP

Former Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has been signed by the New Orleans Saints.

Deuce McAllister, in his New Orleans Saints prime, was a black and gold workhorse. He wanted the football under his arm, the more times the better. As the games wore on, he got stronger.

Now consider this: Adrian Peterson, the running back the Saints signed Tuesday, has run the ball about 1,000 times more during his career than McAllister ever did.

“It’s unbelievable how many times Peterson has carried it,” McAllister said Tuesday morning. “That’s so much wear and tear for a running back. That’s a lot of hits.”

Peterson has carried the football 2,418 times over 10 NFL seasons. McAllister carried 1,429 times over eight NFL seasons before knee injuries effectively ended his career.

Fewer than 400 of Peterson’s carries have come over the past three seasons. Still, McAllister, believes, the Saints’ signing of Peterson was a wise and calculated move.

Melanie Thortis

Rick Cleveland

“You’ve got to realize what they are asking him to do,” McAllister said. “They aren’t asking him to fly the plane. They’ve got Mark Ingram as their No. 1 back. I would think they are looking for 100 to 150 carries for Peterson and Mark should still get his 200 to 250 carries.”

Taking McAllister’s analogy one step further, the Saints are still Drew Brees’ plane. He’s the pilot.

“In the end, you’re looking for ways to protect Drew, and the best way to do that is to be able to run the football,” McAllister said. “The Saints have done their homework on Peterson’s physical condition, what he has left, and they believe he can still help them in that regard.”

In his prime, Peterson clearly was one of the most gifted, productive running backs in NFL history.

Deuce McAllister

“Top three or four, no doubt about it,” McAllister said. “With the exception of having Brett Favre for that one year, who did he ever have as a quarterback when he was in his prime? I mean, Emmitt Smith had Troy Aikman all those years in Dallas. Peterson was the whole show in Minnesota for a long, long time. Everybody was gearing to stop him and he still got his.”

Peterson, McAllister said, is simply taking the place of free agent departure Tim Hightower in the Saints’ scheme. Hightower carried the ball 133 times for 548 yards last season before signing with the San Francisco 49ers.

In 2015, Peterson gained nearly 1,500 yards before a knee injury (torn miniscus) limited him to just 37 carries for a paltry 72 yards last year.

My take: Peterson is now where McAllister was at the end of his career in 2007 and 2008, the two years his career overlapped with Peterson’s.

McAllister, now the Saints radio analyst, remembers.

“In your heart, you know you are at the end of the line,” McAllister said. “You know it, but you don’t want to admit it. You still want to show you’ve got some thunder left.”

If Peterson can stay healthy, he should have enough thunder left to replace Hightower’s production – and maybe then some.

I say that with two caveats:

• One, Peterson, for all his accomplishments, has never been known as a particularly effective back in passing situations. He doesn’t catch the ball well, and he has never been known for his pass blocking. (The New York Yankees never asked Babe Ruth to bunt much either.)

• Two, Peterson has fumbled the ball all too often, as Saints fans should remember. He lost two fumbles in the Saints’ epic 31-28, overtime victory that put New Orleans in the 2010 Super Bowl. (He also gained 125 yards rushing in that game.)

All football coaches abhor fumbles, none more so than Sean Payton. Nevertheless, Payton has calculated the pluses and minuses of signing Peterson and clearly believes this was the best move to help the team return to the playoffs.

One certainty: The addition of one of the greatest running backs in football history, albeit at the end of his career, adds spice to the 2017 Saints season, one that opens with a Monday night game at, of all places, Minnesota.

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Rick Cleveland, Mississippi Today’s sports columnist, this year was named Mississippi Sportswriter of the Year — an honor he achieved for the 10th time — by the National Sports Media Foundation. Read his previous columns and his Sports Daily blog. Reach Rick at [email protected]

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