Craig Reynolds grew up watching Adrian Peterson bulldoze his way to NFL prominence. He played as Peterson in video games.
Reynolds idolized Peterson, which is why these past several months have felt surreal for the undrafted rookie. Upon signing with the Redskins on May 13, Reynolds and Peterson became coworkers. He's worked closely with Peterson since the start of training camp, and he's tried to absorb as much information as possible from one of the NFL's all-time leading rushers.
Some things, however, cannot be taught. Reynolds learned as much during Thursday's preseason game against Cincinnati. Standing on the sideline, he received a unique look at what has made the 34-year-old rusher so special.
"AP, the GOAT, they give him the ball and then he makes one guy miss and takes it for 26 yards," Reynolds told Redskins.com after practice Monday. "He's found the fountain of youth. And he's just an even greater guy when he's in the locker room, great to talk to, he's a great mentor, I listen to everything he says. He's a great dude, and he just set the tone that day for us."
The first-down carry will not factor into Peterson's career rushing total of 13,318 yards, which is currently eighth all-time and second behind Frank Gore among active players. Yet with his first carry of 2019, Peterson reminded teammates, coaches and the FedExField crowd that he does not plan on slowing down entering his 13th NFL season.
On a hand-off up the middle, Peterson used his patented jump cut to avoid a linebacker in the hole and bounced around left tackle Ereck Flowers, who turned his defender inside. He then outran the cornerback who attempted to bring him down near the line of scrimmage. Just as he approached the left sideline -- which occurred about 18 yards down the field -- Peterson cut back inside to pick up a few extra yards. He capped the rush by lowering his shoulder and bracing for contact from the three Bengals it took to tackle him.
As Peterson got back on his feet, the home fans roared. They had seen runs like this from Peterson last season -- when he became the oldest 1,000-yard rusher since Redskins' great John Riggins in 1983 -- and were overjoyed to see him picking up where he left off.
"That's what we know AP to be," running back Chris Thompson said. "He's getting older, but for some reason he's still got the juice, man. He's just got it, and I'm trying to figure out what his secret is so that when I'm his age, I'm hopefully still playing and still got the juice like he does."
For all the talk about his age and expected decline in production, Peterson remains as ambitious as he's ever been.
He downplayed his 2018 statistics, claiming he should have run for 1,500 and 1,600 yards instead of 1,042 yards -- which were eighth-most in the NFL. Entering 2019, his goal remains the same. He wants to rush for 2,000 yards, just like he did when he won the league's MVP award in 2012 with Minnesota.
A year into his Redskins tenure, Peterson said he feels more comfortable with the offense and what's being asked of him. This experience has allowed him to play faster, both when he's running the ball or picking up blocks in pass protection. In some instances, his quarterbacks are still working to catch up.
"I've handed off a lot in my career to a lot of great backs," veteran quarterback Case Keenum said, "and it is a different feeling when you hand it off to him. I'm going to have to get used to it. I'm going to have to get on my horse because he is on his horse early."
During a press conference Aug. 13, head coach Jay Gruden praised Peterson's performance thus far while admitting his true impact cannot be felt in practice. To evaluate his running style -- his burst through the hole, his resilience after contact, his burning passion to eat up yards -- requires game action, and up until that point Peterson had not played a preseason snap. Gruden hoped Peterson would showcase those talents two days later against Cincinnati or versus Atlanta the following week.
Peterson quickly answered his coach's call to action, juking and sprinting and powering his way to a big gain against Cincinnati on Thursday night. In a single rush, Peterson provided a preview of his 2019 potential.
"When he’s in on the plays, we’re all watching his cuts, his tracks, we’re watching everything," Derrius Guice said of Peterson. "When we’re watching film in the film room, [running backs] coach [Randy] Jordan will show us a play and say, ‘Are you writing this down?’ We watch everything he does and we soak it all up. He doesn’t have to say anything because we respect him that much. We know he’s the GOAT.”