Commentary

Quick impression: Vikes' Peterson eyes record season

For all the excitement he's created, Vikings rookie running back Adrian Peterson carries himself more like a man who understands he's barely shown a glimpse of his future.

Originally Published: October 18, 2007
By Jeffri Chadiha | ESPN.com

Adrian PetersonJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesAdrian Peterson is off to the second-fastest start (after five games) for any NFL running back.
Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops once gave Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress some valuable insight into running back Adrian Peterson.

More on Peterson

• Photos: Scouts's top-10 RBs
• Video: Analyzing Peterson
• Green: Why he's so good
• Can Cowboys stop him?

• On Sunday Countdown (ESPN, 11 a.m. ET): Peterson draws upon a lifetime of hardship and tragedy. Greg Garber reports.

A few weeks prior to this year's NFL draft, Stoops informed Childress that he'd never have to worry about Peterson, an All-American at OU, having attitude problems as a professional. There would be no swelled ego. There would be no reluctance to handle less glamorous responsibilities.

As Childress recalled, "Bob said that all Adrian cared about was being a good teammate."

As hokey as that sounds, Childress still doesn't think Stoops was overselling his former star. It's one thing to be mesmerized by Peterson's jaw-dropping talent and breathtaking arrival, especially since the rookie has rushed for more yards (607) in his first five games than any player in NFL history other than Eric Dickerson. Even more impressive is the manner in which Peterson has adjusted to his early success.

He's essentially behaved as if it's no big deal.

For all the excitement he's created, Peterson carries himself more like a man who understands he's barely shown a glimpse of his future. That, by the way, is exactly what makes him so scary.

Drawing Comparisons

With his team facing the Vikings this week, Cowboys coach Wade Phillips was asked to compare Adrian Peterson with other NFL RBs he had seen. His response:

"I think people were saying [Gale] Sayers and [Eric] Dickerson, kind of a combination there. That's what he looks like to me. He's got that shift of gears like Sayers had and of course he has that tremendous speed that Dickerson had; somewhere in there. I was there George Rogers' rookie year and I was there Earl Campbell's rookie year and those guys were amazing and had great years and this guy is right up there with them."

"I always set the bar high," Peterson said during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. "I'm working hard to be able to reach the goals I've set for myself. If you can do that, anything is possible."

When it comes to possibilities, Peterson doesn't have to explain what can be accomplished with gumption and sheer determination. His weekly performances already speak loudly. He gained 103 yards in a season-opening win over Atlanta and scored on a 60-yard touchdown reception after momentarily bobbling a short swing pass. Two weeks later, he ran for 102 yards in a defeat at Kansas City, followed with 112 yards on just 12 carries in a loss to Green Bay.

Of course, that was all a prelude to the game that has left the pro football world buzzing since Sunday when he produced 361 all-purpose yards in a 34-31 win over Chicago.

The mere sight of Peterson dashing around defenders for 224 rushing yards -- the most in Vikings' team history and the most ever allowed by the Bears in their 88-year history -- reminded many of the dominance Peterson displayed at Oklahoma. Peterson scored three touchdowns in Sunday's win, including two on runs of 65 yards or longer.

"You can look at those long runs and see that he's doing the same things he was doing in college," Baltimore Ravens vice president Ozzie Newsome said. "I saw him a lot when he was at Oklahoma and he was running away from people then. That's what you really like about the guy. He's big [6-foot-1 and 217 pounds] and elusive but he also has that extra gear."

Added Childress: "I give Adrian a lot of credit because he's picked things up quickly. He came in as a special player but he's also had to learn a new system and how he fits into it. He's done a good job and what's really impressive is how well he's been catching the football."

Peterson has been so mesmerizing that Childress already has endured criticism for how he uses his new offensive weapon.

Lone Star's Best RBs

Will Adrian Peterson one day crack this top five list of present (and future) Pro Football Hall of Fame running backs born in Texas?

1. Eric Dickerson (1983-93) ... Retired as second on NFL's all-time rushing list with 13,259 yards ... Set NFL record with 2,105 yards in 1984 ... Led league in rushing four times ... HOF Class of 1999 ... Born in Sealy.

2. Earl Campbell (1978-85) ... Multiple MVP and rushing titles during his career ... Rushed for 1,934 yards in 1980, including four 200-yard games ... Career total of 9,407 yards and 74 TDs ... HOF Class of 1991 ... Born in Tyler.

3. LaDainian Tomlinson (2001-present) ... Has rushed for at least 1,200 yards in each of his first six seasons ... NFL MVP in 2006 with 1,815 yards rushing, 508 yards receiving and 31 TDs ... Has scored 118 TDs in career ... Born in Rosebud.

4. Thurman Thomas (1988-2000) ... NFL's MVP in 1991 ... Eight straight 1,000-yard seasons ... Finished with 12,074 rushing yards and another 4,458 yards receiving ... HOF Class of 2007 ... Born in Houston.

5. Doak Walker (1950-55) ... Recognized for versatility as runner, receiver and kicker ... Career average of 4.9 per carry higher than any other player on this list ... HOF Class of 1986 ... Born in Dallas.

-- Mike McAllister, ESPN.com Senior Editor

The growing sentiment around Minnesota is that Peterson should get more carries than his current average of 19.2 per game but Childress is sticking with the same strategy he laid out when the Vikings made Peterson the seventh-overall selection in the draft. Even after his record-setting day in Chicago, Peterson will continue to split carries with Chester Taylor, who ran for 1,216 yards in 2006.

As far as Childress is concerned, a two-headed backfield is far more potent than an offense that relies on one runner to carry the ball 25-30 times a game.

That approach is a good one for Peterson because questions remain about his durability. He sustained a significant injury during each of his three years Oklahoma, including a broken collarbone that cost him seven games in his junior season, and that is certainly something Childress has pondered when he thinks about how best to use Peterson.

"You always have to consider the question of if you're going to wear a guy out," Childress said. "Chester had to face the same questions last year [when Taylor had a career-high 303 carries]. We just feel it's better to go with a change-up. It keeps people off-balance."

Peterson accepts the system -- "being a running back, I wouldn't mind carrying the ball 100 times in a game but that's not possible," he said -- and it's clear the Vikings, who have struggled at quarterback, will need both running backs to stay fresh if they're to improve on their 2-3 record.

What's also apparent is that Peterson will earn more playing time as his pass blocking improves. Since the Vikings have so many different protection schemes, coaches haven't felt entirely comfortable inserting the rookie on passing downs. That's why Peterson played so little in the second half of that Green Bay loss -- the Vikings had to throw more in the final quarter.

However, Childress and his staff aren't worried about Peterson's learning the system. There's no question he's fully committed to getting the most out of his immense talent. That's obvious from the way he returns kickoffs -- despite the durability question, Childress believes in using his backup running back as a kick returner -- and the way Peterson talks about his future in the game.

He has big goals. Record-setting goals. In fact, he doesn't hide his desire to challenge Dickerson's NFL rookie rushing record of 1,808 yards this season. With a league-leading 121.4 yards per game average, Peterson is on pace to rush for 1,942 yards this season.

"If the offensive line keeps playing great and creating holes, then it will be possible to set," Peterson said. "But I'm going to take it week by week and let everything unfold."

This week could be his most exciting to date. He'll be playing at Texas Stadium, facing a Cowboys team that he rooted for while growing up in Palestine, Texas, roughly 115 miles away. He'll be back in Dallas, where he once rushed for 225 yards as a freshman for Oklahoma in a win over Texas at the Cotton Bowl. He'll have 50-60 relatives and friends at Sunday's game, all eager to see more of the highlights he's produced on a weekly basis.

But what Peterson understands is that he can't forget the same approach that has carried him so far, so quickly. As long as he keeps attacking the league with the same calmness and confidence that belies his rookie stature, he knows there's nothing he can't do.

Except carry the ball 100 times a game, of course.

Jeffri Chadiha is a senior writer for ESPN.com.