From Peterson’s perspective, “smartest” is a better adjective for the offseason than “best” because it included the Redskins trading away left tackle Trent Williams, his close friend and business partner.
“I didn’t really like the trade, obviously,” Peterson said in a video conference call with reporters Thursday. “I feel like Trent is the best offensive lineman in the game. … I was hoping there would be some good ending to him and what the Redskins were dealing with.”
Even though Peterson believes the Redskins are worse without Williams, he understands the grander rebuilding plan under Coach Ron Rivera. The new boss wants to push players, to force them to prove themselves to him, and that’s a double-edged sword for Peterson and every other running back because, while more talent means a better team, it also equals fewer guaranteed roster spots.
Running back promises to be one of the Redskins’ toughest position battles ahead of this season, and Peterson understands the need for competition. The Redskins’ offense last season was the NFL’s second worst in yards per game (274.7) and the worst in points per game (16.6). Peterson remains exceedingly optimistic, saying “we have the tools to run the table,” but even incremental progress would put the team on a path toward contention.
Proper expectations this season are “to grow, to get better and improve,” Rivera said Wednesday during a meet-and-greet with military families.
The competition needed as part of that vision doesn’t faze Peterson. This is partly because, despite recently turning 35, he has shown little reason to doubt the skill set that has made him an all-time great. It’s also partly because he is used to the Redskins adding talent. Since Peterson signed with Washington in August 2018, he has carved out a leading role while two running backs drafted in the top four rounds (Derrius Guice and Bryce Love) struggled with injuries.
This year, the Redskins drafted another running back (Antonio Gibson, who also played wide receiver in college), signed two more (Peyton Barber and J.D. McKissic) and have one additional holdover from last year’s squad (journeyman Josh Ferguson). Those six are Peterson’s foes for the four or so available spots.
“People ask me that question all the time, man: ‘Redskins? Really? They’re packing that running back role?’” Peterson said. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, they are, but hey, it is what it is.’ It is what it is until you’ve got to lace them up.”
In fact, Rivera’s push-to-prove philosophy is in line with Peterson’s own. After rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins struggled early last season, the veteran running back challenged him to develop faster, to reach his potential. By the end of the year, Peterson saw the pieces clicking into place for Haskins, and the quarterback’s progress this offseason — molding his body, learning the new offensive system and developing into “that leader that we need him to be” — has earned Peterson’s praise.
“I’m expecting big things from him,” Peterson said. “Obviously, [his development is] going to be the main piece for us on the offensive side of the ball. … It’s going to be night and day from what we’ve been seeing.”
While the novel coronavirus pandemic has limited the Redskins’ ability to come together, Peterson maintained he is doing everything he can to help the team. He is staying in shape by working out three to four times per week with his personal trainer, and though he admitted it’s “hard” to develop Rivera’s culture virtually, he is ready to contribute to it. Recently, after meeting with the young running backs, he gave them his phone number and told them to call him if they had any questions.
“I’m not that guy that’s going to withhold something to get myself an edge,” Peterson said. “A lot of these guys look up to me and still do at a young age. I’m going to do my part.”