September 09, 2015

Most believe Adrian Peterson will return to form after a year away from football. Many think Teddy Bridgewater will only get better from a solid rookie season.

The question lingers, what can they do together?

It's happening a year late, but the Minnesota Vikings will finally see their all-league running back and young quarterback side by side in a game in Monday night's opener against the San Francisco 49ers.

Peterson and Bridgewater are at opposite ends of their careers but figure to overlap the middle portion enough to make Minnesota relevant in the NFC North.

Last year's 7-9 record doesn't do much to shower postseason predictions on the Vikings, but the addition of Peterson in the backfield is a huge boost. Minnesota ranked 14th in the NFL last year with 112.8 rushing yards per game and tied for 14th with 12 rushing touchdowns.

Peterson, who didn't play in the preseason, finished with less than 1,200 rushing yards once in his career and never posted less than 10 rushing touchdowns - not including the single game he played last season before the child abuse case surfaced that placed him on the commissioner's exempt list.

Still, Peterson says, "Teddy, I feel like he's the key."

'"There's not too many guys that come into the league that have that talent, especially at the quarterback position," he added. "He's just so poised. He has a great arm. He's mature. And he's a competitor.''

Bridgewater was thrust into the starting role last year with an injury to Matt Cassel, and he impressed in 13 games - 12 starts. He ranked 11th in the NFL with a 64.4 completion percentage, though he was 22nd with an 85.2 passer rating.

Bridgewater threw for 2,919 yards and had 14 touchdowns against 12 interceptions. He added 209 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

The bigger running threat at the quarterback position Monday night will be Colin Kaepernick. San Francisco's signal-caller totaled 639 rushing yards last season, second behind Russell Wilson's 849.

"All quarterbacks, they put an extra dimension in when they can run the football," Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said. "They can create space with their legs, so you have to be careful with your rush lanes, and we anticipate they're going to get out of the pocket with some bootlegs and things like that."

The 49ers will look far different around Kaepernick after a disappointing 8-8 record last year left them out of the playoffs for the first time since 2010. The changes start at the top with new coach Jim Tomsula, who replaces Jim Harbaugh.

Tomsula hasn't had an easy go of it so far as San Francisco's offseason was plagued by unlikely retirements and legal issues.

The 49ers lost Patrick Willis, Anthony Davis, Chris Borland and Justin Smith to retirement and were forced to release Aldon Smith after he was arrested for hit and run, drunken driving and vandalism in August.

Franchise rushing leader Frank Gore and former first-round pick Mike Iupati also left in free agency.

San Francisco still has veteran offensive threats for Kaepernick to utilize in wideouts Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith and tight end Vernon Davis. Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush fill the gap left by Gore in the backfield.

''The way that you prepare gives you an opportunity," Boldin said. "The guys that we have in the locker room, I know what kind of guys we have in here. Those are guys that are going to bust their butt, try to do things the right way as much as possible. Nobody's perfect. We're going to try to go out and try for perfection each day.''

San Francisco's defense also gets a much-needed boost with the return of linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who hasn't played since suffering a brutal knee injury during the NFC championship game at Seattle in January 2014.

The 49ers hope a strong preseason is a sign that Bowman will return to his 2013 numbers: 118 tackles, five sacks and two interceptions. Bowman made three tackles in three snaps in his return during San Francisco's second preseason game, and he sacked Peyton Manning twice in the third.

''I'm satisfied with how much work I've put in, how far I've come, how fast I'm able to recover coverage-wise,'' Bowman said.

Minnesota has won three straight and five of the last six meetings.

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