EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. Adrian Peterson has seen the replays of his devastating knee injury.
On Christmas Eve, the Minnesota Vikings' 100 million man dropped to the turf at Washington's FedEx Field after Redskins safety DeJon Gomes hit Peterson's left knee while his leg was planted.
On Friday, talking to the media for the first time since a torn ACL and MCL required surgery, Peterson recalled watching the play and feeling the pain all over again.
"Oh yeah," he said, grimacing when asked if he'd seen replays. "Just looking at it, your leg is not where it's supposed to go that way, at all. But I knew right off the top, when I got hit, that it was something devastating. And just watching the play kind of puts the cherry on top for it. But it is what it is."
Peterson, flanked by Vikings' head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman, was free from crutches for the first time Friday and walked to the press conference with a heavy brace on his knee.
The first week after the Dec. 30 surgery, mainly dedicated to pain management, was the toughest for Peterson.
"It was painful, like (Sugarman) said," Peterson said. "I didn't want anyone touching it or to try to put it on the ground or anything like that. I feel like the first week was the toughest part for me, not being able to sleep, waking up every two hours, just dealing with the pain and the frustration, looking ahead like, 'Wow, I've got a long way before I'm able just to move around and walk.'
"But after that first week, I feel like things really just started to calm down. The pain started to subside. I was able to just get more motivated about the process."
Peterson, a 26-year-old who had 970 rushing yards in 12 games this season, plans to finish out his rehab while working both in Minnesota and at home in Texas. Sugarman said he might also travel to Texas at times to check on Peterson. Sugarman also said Peterson's is progressing well two weeks after surgery and outlined a several-phase rehabilitation program in hopes of having Peterson ready to go when the 2012 season opens.
Peterson, a four-time Pro Bowl selection who this season fell short of 1,200 rushing yards for the first time in his five year-career, has begun riding a stationary bike.
"He has great motion in his knee with extension and flexion," Sugarman said. "His quadricep fires really well. Just doing everything that we would expect and then some as we move forward.
"We're not in a race. We're not going to rush him. We're not trying to jump to all the different phases. We're following the protocol that's prescribed for him and everyone that's had an ACL tear. We're just going to continue to progress along at the pace that we know is safe for him."
Sugarman said Peterson's ACL reconstruction came from a graft of his patellar tendon.Though Peterson is beginning to feel better, Sugarman said around the two- to three-month mark, the knee will actually become weaker again before becoming stable and stronger about 10 to 12 weeks after surgery.
Sugarman wasn't backing off his initial diagnosis of an eight- to nine-month recovery but cautioned against getting ahead of the process.
"No one's going to work harder than this guy," Sugarman said. "The hardest part for me, and I'll say this because we're on record, is going to be keeping him in check. He's got to follow the protocol and not try to do too much, not be influenced by other people and just do it. He'll do fine."
Sugarman and Peterson still hold the belief he might be ready when the 2012 season begins. Peterson may not be full speed at the start of training camp but will be evaluated then to see how much work he will be able to tolerate. Sugarman cited the ACL injury suffered by cornerback Cedric Griffin in 2009 that came later in the season than Peterson's. Griffin opened the following season on the physically unable to perform list and missed the first two weeks of the season.
"We'll have to reevaluate and reassess it at that point, but I don't have any expectations," Sugarman said about Peterson's prospects for training camp. "Honestly, I really don't. The only thing we have is a goal and it's his goal to be ready for the first game. If we can meet it, that's great. We're going to strive for it until someone tells us we can't."
Peterson said he's been through the "what-ifs" of looking at his injury and has accepted the work he will need to put in during his recovery. He believes he can return as the same player who has been regarded as one of the NFL's top handful of running backs since he was drafted seventh overall in 2007.
"I know that anything I put my mind to, I'll be able to accomplish," Peterson said. "I feel like I'm going to come back better than before. I know people might laugh at that or think otherwise, but you know what? It doesn't matter what they think or how they feel about it. The only thing that matters is how I feel about it and what I believe. I've been able to just go through the sacrifices and whatever it takes to get to that. I've already started that."