Peterson a gem being refined
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Adrian Peterson figured it out in practice last week.
Lure the linebacker into the hole between the tackle and the tight end by quickly poking his head inside, circle around the edge, and sprint up the sideline for a potentially long gain.
Minnesota coach Brad Childress turned to assistant Eric Bieniemy and smiled, realizing the implication of this subtle progress in Peterson’s development.
The Vikings had no clue what was coming that Sunday, but they were confident their remarkable rookie was headed for an even higher level of success.
“I really studied it,” Peterson said, “and looked at the other things I can do better.”
Already a runaway favorite for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, Peterson stepped into exclusive territory with his league-record 296-yard performance last week against the Chargers.
On pace to smash Eric Dickerson’s rushing mark of 1,808 yards for rookie backs, Peterson is also on track to become the sixth player in NFL history to reach 2,000 yards rushing in one season.
He has a chance, too, as a rookie, to be the most productive runner in the league’s 88 years. Dickerson has the record: 2,105 yards in 1984.
With 1,036 yards in half of his first NFL season, Peterson is performing like no other rookie at this celebrated position. Edgerrin James, with 1,553 yards for the Indianapolis Colts in 1999, was the only other first-year back who led the league since Dickerson did it in 1983.
Barry Sanders? No. Emmitt Smith? Nope. LaDainian Tomlinson? Sorry.
None of them was as dominant as Peterson has been so far during his first season getting paid to play football. He has done this for a team with a paltry passing attack that often faces eight or nine defenders near the line of scrimmage.
“He’s got everything you need in a running back: the vision, the speed, the power,” said Chargers rookie cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who was part of the unsuccessful attempts to tackle Peterson last week at the Metrodome.
Minnesota teammate Darren Sharper tried to compare Peterson to other backs he’s faced or seen highlights of, regardless of age. He went all the way back to Jim Brown to find one.
“He’s special and blessed. I just hope I get the opportunity to see him grow and just continue to get better and better,” Sharper said. “Because the sky’s the limit. Even this year, there’s no telling what the kid’s going to do next. Every time he touches the ball, it could be a play of all time.”
The scary part about Peterson is that most of his NFL accomplishments to date have been based on that unique natural ability. There is more to learn and master.
“I’m still learning all of the rules when it comes to seeing different blitzes and different defenses and stuff like that,” Peterson said. “But still learning to be patient and letting things develop. I am doing a better job, but it’s all about just being consistent week by week.”
Take that revelation from last week’s practice regarding running around the end. In the game that followed a few days later, Peterson took 10 of his 30 carries outside for a total of 100 yards. That included a 46-yard touchdown that put San Diego away in the fourth quarter and excluded a 17-yard carry erased by a holding call.
“Great players tend to let the game rotate around them, and he’s one of those guys,” teammate Bobby Wade said. “He kind of dictates his style of play to the game, and everybody else has to come with him. That’s exciting to play with a guy like that.”
The Vikings have seen Peterson pick up the nuances of NFL competition at a relatively normal rate for rookies.
Bieniemy, the running backs coach, still yells at him a lot, including once during the walkthrough the day before he set the record. With skills so exceptional, though, any mental capacity Peterson has is essentially a bonus. And he has plenty.
“I think he is a hungry learner,” Childress said. “He’s not a know-it-all, and he’s a sponge, and he works at it, and generally when you can show him something he’s not going to make the same error twice.”
Bieniemy, while at UCLA, recruited Peterson when he was in high school at Palestine, Texas. Peterson ultimately chose Oklahoma, but his determination to succeed made an impression that’s still with Bieniemy.
“He has not changed since, and that’s what makes it fun working with him,” Bieniemy said.
Peterson comes across as a humble, easygoing guy, one who credits the blocking in front of him in almost every public comment. There is a shyness and a softspokeness about him, but each week Peterson clearly becomes more comfortable with this fame. He already has the hardest handshake in the league.
This week, we learned a little more about him:
* Peterson can dance, as well as run: “I can do the robot, a little Michael Jackson,” he said.
* His favorite players to watch are Randy Moss and Tom Brady.
* Peterson has been bombarded by attention since last Sunday, and he acknowledged being a bit in awe of what he did. Sanders was among the hundreds of people who called to congratulate him.
“You sit back and say, ‘Man, I can’t believe I did it.’ But you did,” Peterson said. “That’s when you know that you’re truly blessed.”