When Adrian Peterson took the field with the Seahawks for the first time in December, it was for a Wednesday walkthrough, what is normally a slow-speed on-field session used for going over plays and learning that week's game plan. It's such slow-paced work, players refer to it as Pro Bowl walkthrough, a reference to the very light practices players go through at the NFL's annual postseason All-Star game.
But when Peterson took the field for that Wednesday walkthrough, a 36-year-old who has already established himself as one of the best backs in NFL history, he took off running. On Day 1, Peterson was making an impact on the young running backs around him, making his brief time with the Seahawks this season far more valuable than the 16 yards and a touchdown he had in a win over the 49ers before he was sidelined by a back injury.
"Bringing AP in, I felt like it was a motivational boost for the running backs," said running back Rashaad Penny. "The first day of walkthrough—we call it Pro Bowl walkthrough, it's literally the slowest we ever go—AP came out there flying, and I went to him and asked, 'You know, this is Pro Bowl, we're supposed to be walking.' And he was like, 'You get your footing, right, you get to see everything and everything else will take care of yourself.' So learning that from him, and just me pushing myself every day, pushing myself every day through walk throughs and in practice, it will show up in results on the field."
As Penny took over the starting role over the final five weeks of the season and became a dominant back, rushing for 671 yards—the most in the NFL over that span—with six touchdowns and a 7.3 yards-per-carry average, both he and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll continued to point to the influence Peterson had on the running backs as one of the reasons behind Penny's success.
Carroll called the impact Peterson had on the running backs "startling."
"It was so obvious," Carroll said after Penny rushed for 170 yards and two scored against the Lions in Week 17 with Peterson on the sideline. "It was so obvious. And Adrian was on the sideline today, all jacked up, having fun, cheerleading, and all that. I've never seen him like that. Let me give a little bit of credit. When Marshawn (Lynch) came back (in 2019), the first week, he had a big impact. They were totally different guys as they re-enter, different stories and all that. But Marshawn had a big impact, too. And sometimes those special players they can affect guys in ways that—that's why the teams they play on are always successful, because they help the people around them play better. And you got to give him credit to Adrian for what he's stood for and what he is.
Carroll pointed to "the way he worked," as the biggest influence Peterson had. "That's what it was. Every step he took was full speed, flying around. And he looked great. And we said, 'Holy cow.' And the next play, and the next play. And only had a couple, three days of practice with him. And he made that impression that quickly. It was that obvious. No mistaking what happened. He influenced a ton of people. Myself included. I felt the same thing. This is what it's like being around a great player. And it just kind of jumped out at you."
And with Peterson having such a strong influence in such a short timeframe, Carroll floated an idea to Peterson that he said he hadn't really considered before—becoming a coach whenever his playing days are done.
"The funny thing is, I never really envisioned myself coaching, not on this level or the college level," Peterson said. "Maybe my son's little league team or something. But after talking to Coach Pete, it's something that I've been kind of thinking about. I talked to my wife as well, and she was like, 'Adrian, you're just a different person when you're around football, so it's something you really should think about and consider.' So for the first time, I've actually thought about it and considered going that direction when I'm done playing football. So we'll see where the chips fall."
Said Carroll, "He would be an extraordinary coach and he has all of the right kind of makeup, background, and accomplishment that gives him the stature that few people could ever have in this business. His work ethic and all of the things that he could transfer, which we have already seen the impact of it, obviously. There are a lot of things that he can do in the world, he doesn't have to be a ball coach, but he certainly would have a chance to be a great one."
For now, however, Peterson isn't looking to hang up his cleats quite yet. Yes, he turns 37 in March, but Peterson also felt like he was just getting going this season before a back injury landed him on injured reserve after one game with Seattle. So even if his Hall of Fame credentials are already plenty impressive, Peterson is heading into the offseason with the mindset that he will try to play in 2022.
"I just can't fathom my career ending the way that it did," he said. "So with that, I'm going into the offseason with the mindset to continue to play. I've still got love for the game, I feel like I can compete at a high level still… As of today, I'm definitely looking forward to playing again."
Whether Peterson spends any more time with the Seahawks as a player or coach remains to be seen, but in just over a month, he had a big impact on the team and on Penny in particular, and the Seahawks also left an impression on a player who has spent time with six other teams over a 15-year career.
"The experience was top notch," he said. "I've been blessed to play with a lot of different organizations. I can say this is probably the best experience I've had. From the ownership on down to the cafeteria, it's good people. It's a different mentality that I experienced coming into this building with the team having the record that they had and just kind of seeing how the coaches, the players, and the team approach each week. Just really grinding and focusing on one week at a time and looking at it as another opportunity to get better. It was an amazing experience for me, and I really enjoyed it."
The Seahawks cleaned out their lockers at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton to wrap up the 2021 season.