When asked about how much new running back Adrian Peterson would play Friday against the Broncos, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said earlier this week that he wanted to "get him some touches and get a good lather going."
From the first snap – an explosive run up the middle for seven yards – it was clear Peterson received more than just a lather in the backfield. Running with purpose, fresh legs and a heightened sense of urgency, Peterson showed shades of his former self Friday night, rushing 11 times for 56 yards in his Redskins debut at FedExField.
"I saw a big guy running pretty hard, really," Gruden said following Washington's 29-17 loss. "The thing I like about some of his runs is they look like they're gains of ones and he'd fall forward for a gain of three. The first run of the day I thought was a three-yard gain and he ends up second-and-three…I was impressed with Adrian and the way he played."
Without the benefit of having OTAs or training camp – working out by himself in Houston for the past several months – Peterson had just a few days to get up to speed with the Redskins offense after signing with the team on Monday. His performance, therefore, functioned as both a hyper-intensive catchup and a reminder that he isn't finished making an impact in the NFL.
"We'll see how I feel when I wake up in the morning, but I felt like I responded well in my legs. It felt good, I didn't get tired, so the cardio is where it needs to be, and right now I just look at it as knocking a little rust off."
True to his word, Gruden didn't insert Peterson into any third down situations, saving those for Kapri Bibbs. After a three-and-out to start the game, Peterson returned to the backfield, and following a carry to the left for no gain, he began to shine.
The former MVP took the next handoff to the left, cut back to his right and sprinted upfield through a moving hole for 13 yards and a first down, the second of seven consecutive carries that, with the aid of a 15-yard penalty, drove Washington to Denver's 31-yard line.
Peterson returned to the field in the second quarter, taking two more carries for six combined yards. Washington then faced a fourth-and-inches situation on its own 40-yard line. The offense stayed on the field, and the fans got another treat, as Peterson took the handoff to the left, crossed the first down line, paused and charged towards the sideline for 15 yards, his longest run of the night.
"I actually had a two-way go. I could have [taken] it in to the C-gap and I almost did," Peterson said. "The outside was wide open so I just kind of turned on the speed a little bit. Got around and tried to make a big play out of it."
The running back finished his sprint out of bounds into the waiting arms of Trent Williams, all smiles, as he halted his former Oklahoma teammate's momentum.
"I was like, 'Man I should have crossed field,'" Peterson said. "And he was like 'Man, you did good. You did good."
"It looked good to me. It surely don't look like he lost a step," Williams said. "We've been close for a long time, haven't got a chance to play with him since we left Norman [Oklahoma] and having him on the team, it's a joy. Like I said in the beginning, it's a dream come true. Happy to see him and I know we'll open up some lanes for him."
Peterson is still working through the playbook, knowing he has more to learn than the last few days have provided for him. It hasn't struck him just yet about what kind of imprint he's made on the organization in such a short amount of time, a result of his dedicated investment trying to get better each day.
"Me just taking advantage of the opportunity, and coming in a then setting an example for the young guys and making the guys on the defensive side and offensive line better with how I approach practice," Peterson said. "That's been my mentality going on 12 years now so for me it's normal."
"He still has it," said running back Rob Kelley, who has been eager to ask Peterson questions at every chance he gets. "It comes to the point where I don't even want to talk about it. It's Adrian Peterson, it's self-explanatory."
With the fourth preseason game in Baltimore approaching Thursday, Gruden will monitor the way his new running back feels after seeing his first football action in a long time, before making a decision on if, or how much, he'll play.
"I have two and a half weeks ahead of me before the season opener and based off how I felt today, I am very excited," Peterson said.
The Redskins should feel that way, too.