Believe it or not, Peterson can get better

Updated: January 6, 2005, 9:45 AM ET
By Bruce Feldman | ESPN The Magazine

He's already been anointed as Superman, an icon ready to go all LeBron on the sports world. All Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson did was rush for 1,860 yards and 15 TDs in his debut season. Better still, the guy ran for 225 yards in the Sooners biggest game of the year against Texas and then came back to roll up 249 more in their next-biggest game, at Oklahoma State.

Peterson was the rarest of all things in sports. He was better than advertised. He's got pile-driving power, sprinter's speed and preternatural vision. His upright style evokes memories of another great tailback from the Lone Star State, Eric Dickerson, and surely Peterson proved he is a home-run hitter having 44 runs of at least 10 yards and eight that went for 35 yards or longer. So now the (multi)million-dollar question: What can the 6-foot-2, 215-pound freshman do to get better?

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  • Chuck Long, the Sooners offensive coordinator, says the next step is becoming more of a receiving threat. Peterson, for all his wonderful open-field running skills, only caught three passes for a whopping six yards this season, and had no receptions in OU's last four games. His understudy Kejuan Jones caught 20. But Long says that's not a knock on Peterson's hands, so much as they wanted to break him in slowly and wanted to make sure he was versed the OU ground attack first.

    One pro scout, who said Peterson would start for "at least" 10 NFL teams right now, says the big thing he wants to see the 19-year-old really improve on is ball security.

    "He put it on the ground a few times this year, and the thing that spooks you a little is he really waves it around a lot, and in our league guys will whack it out of there every chance they see it," says the scout, a former pro running back himself. "But just remember that every good back fumbles, especially the tackle breakers. Tiki Barber really had to work on that and only this year got better. Ahman Green still has that problem. So does (Reggie) Bush."

    Anything else? "No," said the scout. "He's a horse right now, and he's only going to get stronger and smarter. Wait until he gets that offseason in their weight program and then watch how many guys he runs over."

    Perhaps it's Peterson's humility that reflects best of all why the OU coaches and players gush over him. He'll tell you there is one thing he needs to work on to take the next step in his development -- everything.

    Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His first book Cane Mutiny: How the Miami Hurricanes Overturned the Football Establishment is out in bookstores. He can be reached at bruce.feldman@espn3.com.

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