By Dave Campbell The Associated Press, AP Pro Football Writer
The Mankato Free Press
---- — MANKATO — Embracing the challenge has always been a part of Adrian Peterson's persona. Bring it on, the star running back has often said with a smile.
He set the NFL's single-game rushing record as a rookie for the Minnesota Vikings. His swift recovery from reconstructive left knee surgery last season included a jaw-dropping 2,097 yards rushing and the league MVP award. No matter how rare the feat he's asked about, Peterson will usually insist it's possible.
There's another test he'd eagerly take: for human growth hormone.
"I can't wait until they draw my blood," Peterson said Friday after the team's first workout of training camp.
The NFL and the players union have been working on an agreement for HGH testing procedures. Supplemental HGH is a banned substance that's difficult to detect. It's been used by athletes for what are believed to be a variety of benefits, whether real or only perceived, like increased speed and improved vision.
"To be honest with you, I've been hoping they did this a long time ago, you know, evening out the playing field and make guys be honest and truthful to themselves," Peterson said, later adding: "I'm all natural. I work hard. This right here, it's a test for me personally, that I know that, 'Hey, I'm clean as a whistle,' and other guys as well. And then, like I say, it'll bring some guys to the forefront and be like, 'Hey, I guess this is how this guy's been performing so well.'"
Peterson said he believes HGH use is not uncommon around the league.
"You've got guys out there trying to provide for their families, they're going to try to get that edge, get that advantage, especially if they're not worried about trying to get caught," Peterson said. "Yeah, it's being used."
Vikings defensive end Jared Allen offered a less skeptical view but echoed his teammate's encouragement of the testing.
"You like to think that everybody is playing clean and that we have a pretty solid drug testing system now with steroids, being random like it is, that it would discourage that kind of use," Allen said. "I'm not naïve to say that. There are probably people on them. But hopefully if they can figure it out and get the system worked out, then it would discourage anyone using performance-enhancing drugs."
Peterson's seemingly superhuman comeback last season prompted plenty of accusations he heard in person or saw online. There's even a Twitter user with the handle @HghPeterson. Peterson is aware of it.
"I think that's a compliment, when I hear people say stuff like that," Peterson said. "It shows me how blessed I am."
Given the state of pro sports, particularly in light of the recent resurgence of big-name baseball players linked to performance-enhancing drugs, even a live-televised blood test of Peterson's sample would still leave people assuming he somehow cheated to aid his remarkable 2012 season. But he said he's not worried about such disbelief.
"Because I'm true to myself, and I know I have a lot of respect for this game and the guys that came before me and the guys that did it the right way, and that's what I'm all about," Peterson said.
Of the six other players who topped the 2,000-yard mark (Eric Dickerson, Jamal Lewis, Barry Sanders, Terrell Davis, Chris Johnson and O.J. Simpson) previously, the best follow-up performance was 1,491 yards by Sanders in 1998. Some statistical regression is only natural, especially if quarterback Christian Ponder can improve with two new wide receivers, Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson, to throw to.
"We don't sit down and say, 'We want you to get this many yards. We want you to run this way,'" coach Leslie Frazier said. "We've got some parameters we want him to work within, but you've still got to let Adrian be Adrian. He's the greatest running back in our game, so we're not going to pigeonhole him in how we're going to use him."
Peterson was asked at one point about whether he could reach 2,500 yards this year, and he of course said sure. The subject comes up now almost every time he's available to reporters, and in keeping with that old bring-it-on attitude Peterson has never dismissed the notion.
"It's something I want to accomplish, if it's something that happens. If not, it doesn't matter as long as we win," Peterson said.
That's why the Vikings haven't delved much into concern about Peterson's yardage total for the year, whether it goes up or goes down.
"You always want to be balanced as a football team, but you also want to win games," center John Sullivan said. "So if running for 300 yards is what helps us win, I'm sure that's what our goal will be."
Last summer at this time, the goal was just to get Peterson practicing full speed with the team again and ready for the regular season opener.
"I was teasing him. I said, 'I don't think you're in as good of shape as you were a year ago,'" Frazier said, "and he goes, 'We'll see. We'll see,' with a smile."