Adrian Peterson isn't the only big piece of the Minnesota Vikings offense that has been missing for most of the season.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph has missed the last seven games after having surgery to repair a sports hernia. After two months of rehabilitation, Rudolph appears close to returning to the field.
Rudolph was back at practice this week as the Vikings (4-5) prepared for a game at Chicago (3-6) on Sunday. Coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner have not made a final determination on Rudolph's availability this week, but the 6-foot-6 tight end is starting to get antsy.
"For me, I'm going to do everything I can to get out there on Sunday," Rudolph said. "I'm tired of watching."
Turner had big plans for Rudolph when he joined Zimmer's staff this year and many expected the versatile tight end to have a breakout season, playing for a coordinator with a history of turning big, athletic players like Rudolph into stars.
But the sports hernia bothered Rudolph in the preseason and then really started to slow him down when the season began. The former Pro Bowl MVP had seven catches for 149 yards and a touchdown in the first three games of the season before shutting it down and getting the surgery.
All along, the target for Rudolph was to return after the bye week, which the Vikings had last week following two straight victories over Tampa Bay and Washington. Rudolph said Thursday that he was pushing to play against Washington before the bye, but the coaches and training staff wouldn't allow it.
"They're the ones that make the decision and they're the ones that kind of protect me from myself," Rudolph said. "I'm my own worst enemy in that."
Backups Chase Ford and Rhett Ellison have filled in admirably during Rudolph's absence. But it's clear that quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and the rest of the offense eagerly await Rudolph's return.
"He brings the complete package," Turner said. "He can block. He can run. He can catch. He's got the experience. I think he's got a good understanding of what we do."
Getting Rudolph back on the field will bring the Vikings offense one big step closer to being whole again as they try to scratch their way back into the wide open NFC playoff picture. After a road game against the Bears, they have three straight home games against Green Bay, Carolina and the Jets.
Peterson will meet with the NFL on Monday about possible reinstatement after missing the previous nine games while dealing with child abuse charges in Texas, a person with knowledge of the hearing told The Associated Press on Thursday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the hearing has not been announced. Peterson pleaded no contest last week to a lesser charge of misdemeanor reckless assault, freeing him from the court system provided he fulfills his probation terms.
If Peterson is reinstated and the Vikings decide to put their star running back on the field, Minnesota's 27th-ranked offense will suddenly have a much more potent look.
Even while he's been on the sideline, Rudolph said he can sense some momentum building.
"I mean, just the atmosphere around the locker room, the energy in meetings, out on the practice field," Rudolph said. "You win a couple games in a row and we just need to keep building on that. It's extremely important for us to take the next step."
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner contributed to this report.