If looks could kill, Patrick Peterson’s piercing stare last week would have ended the life of a reporter at TCO Performance Center in Eagan. The 31-year-old cornerback fielded a bevy of questions at the podium, giving lengthy answers in return, before his leadership skills came up in conversation.
Asked how he’s adapting as a leader in his first season with the Vikings, Peterson switched up his cadence and looked directly into the reporter’s eyes, replying, “I’m a born leader.”
There were a few seconds of silence as Peterson let his point sink in. He then mercifully decided to elaborate on his answer.
“I didn’t come in here and do anything out of the ordinary,” he continued. “Guys see how I operate. Guys see how I come to work every day. Guys see how I take care of my body. That all comes with being a pro.”
That type of professionalism is exactly what coach Mike Zimmer was looking for this offseason, and it’s exactly what he has gotten in Peterson.
Not only has Peterson stepped up as the No. 1 cornerback on the outside — he was barely tested last Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals — he has been a guiding light for some of the younger cornerbacks on the roster. Whether it’s giving words of encouragement to Bashaud Breeland last week after a rough couple of plays, or serving as a sounding board for Kris Boyd before and after practice, Peterson’s impact has been palpable.
His biggest piece of advice?
“You have to be on cruising altitude at all times,” Peterson said. “You can’t get too high. You can’t get too low. You just have to worry about moving onto the next play and staying focused on the task at hand.”
That might be easier said than done Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. After spending the past decade with the organization, Peterson will return to where it all began for a 3 p.m. kickoff in Glendale, Ariz.
“Obviously, it’s my old team,” Peterson said. “I’m treating it like another game on the schedule.”
When a reporter suggested to Peterson that it might be difficult to do when he actually hits the field State Farm Stadium, he quickly refuted that claim.
“Not at all, because in actuality it is another game,” he said. “I have to go out there and be at my best for my team. I have to go out there and be dialed in for 60 minutes.”
That matter-of-fact answer was another example of his leadership personified. It’s something his teammates have started to notice in different forms throughout a week of practice.
His teammates on the defensive side of the ball, for example, get to experience it firsthand on the field.
“I just realized I ain’t ever played with nobody like Patrick, a corner on that side where they don’t even look his way,” Breeland said. “It really showed me I’ve got to buckle my chinstrap week-in and week-out.”
His teammates on the offensive side of the ball, meanwhile, feel it when they pick his brain off the field.
“Just asking him about the double moves I put on him that he doesn’t bite on,” receiver Justin Jefferson said. “What’s he looking for? What things am I doing that trigger him to not bite on the first move? I’m definitely picking his brain to learn from him and see what helps me going out against a top corner.”
Aside from his leadership, Peterson is still a darn good player, contrary to what some experts were saying this offseason before he signed with the Vikings. There was a particular play in practice that stood out to Zimmer a couple of weeks ago.
“He guessed on this route because of the release that he got and he got the wrong route — and it was actually a go route,” Zimmer said. “I saw his acceleration to the receiver. I have not seen any lack of athleticism.”
That’s something quarterback Kirk Cousins has noticed, as well.
“That is such a position of athleticism and confidence and he has those things in spades,” Cousins said. “He’s also a very strong player. I don’t think he gets beat up physically. I think if anything he can take the fight to someone in coverage. That is a great trait to have as a corner.”
There might be a drop off at some point but Peterson is always going to be a valuable player because of everything else he brings to the table. As he made abundantly clear last week, he’s a born leader.
“I’m the oldest of five kids,” Peterson said. “Our parents had us at a very young age, so I kind of had to step into that role early, and I embraced it. I believe that’s why it’s so easy for me to come in here and fit in and also lead by example each and every day, because I know I have siblings looking up to me each and every day.
“Just coming in here it was fairly easy,” he added. “I love the game. I love to play football. I love to try to give any piece of advice I can to help make my teammates a better player. Not only a better player, a better person, as well. (It’s) just something that’s in me.”