The Vikings are committed to running the ball, and they are running it better than ever.
Coach Leslie Frazier is encouraging offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave to pound the ball against teams when they have a lead at the end of the game to run out the clock, as they did last Sunday against the Titans.
Of course, the great surprise has been Adrian Peterson, who has been almost exactly as effective as he was a year ago when he was fully healthy to start the season. He has been recovering from reconstructive knee surgery done last December.
Peterson had 110 carries for 498 yards (4.53 yards per carry) through five games last season and has 96 carries for 420 yards (4.38 yards per carry) this season. And while a lot of focus in the media has been on the use of receiver Percy Harvin as a running back, Peterson is also happy that quarterback Christian Ponder has started to use the running backs more as receivers out of the backfield.
"I know as a running back group, we're in the quarterback's ears, like: 'Hey, give us the ball, throw us the ball. We know you have to go through your reads, but we're going to be in our check-down position and come back and find us. We'll get 2 or 3.' That's better than throwing the ball [away] or something like that; I'm going to continue saying that to him. [Ponder] took note. He's been dishing the ball down to us."
New offensive line gels
Peterson praised the Vikings' new offensive line.
"Yeah, I felt like it was a good performance up front [against Tennessee]," he said. "You know, it really got started the week against San Fran and just went back with the same type of performance. We knew what type of front we were going up against, and we just practiced all week and got focused and in tune, making sure they executed. We were able to do the same thing on the field."
Peterson added: "You see the body language of the defenders and they have a few choice words that may come out that indicate [they're tired] as well. In the third or fourth quarter, you see those guys just kind of laying it down, not really coming in with the same type of physicality on different plays. That's when you know guys are shutting it down, and we sense that."
Peterson said the Vikings' running backs want to be a cohesive group, no matter who is in the backfield.
"We're sound in our run game," he said. "Something we take pride in as a group, offensively, is running the ball. We're going to go out and do our job and outrush these guys."
Peterson suffered a sprained ankle last week, but it was nothing serious.
"You know, I'm getting better each week, just fine-tuning," he said. "I'm getting stronger and just doing the necessary things to take care of my body, icing and doing different treatments and stretching and stuff. But I'm feeling great."
U recruits stand out
Gophers quarterback recruit Chris Streveler is having a great year for Marian Central Catholic High School in Crystal Lake, Ill., which is undefeated and just beat Montini, the No. 1-ranked team in Illinois, 49-24 last weekend. In that game Streveler, who verbally committed to the Gophers in June, rushed for four touchdowns and threw for two. He finished the game with 136 yards rushing on 17 carries and went 14-for-18 for 147 yards passing.
Streveler also recently told the Northwest Herald that he will enroll early with the Gophers. "Hopefully, I can compete for some kind of playing time whether they're starting me at quarterback or if I can find my way on the field as a safety or a wide receiver," he said. "So I'm just hoping I can get up there and compete, get with the guys and start [building] that camaraderie."
Two basketball players coveted by Gophers coaches recently were highlighted by ESPN reporter Reggie Rankin at the 2012 USA Basketball men's developmental national team minicamp for players in the 2015 and 2016 recruiting classes.
Henry Ellenson, a 6-8 sophomore and younger brother of Wally Ellenson, who will be a freshman at Minnesota this year, is out of Rice Lake, Wis., Rankin wrote: "Ellenson is a coach's dream and an opposing post player's worst nightmare. He has size, strength, skill and the ability to score with his back to the basket and can easily extend to the arc when facing it."
Also highlighted was Hopkins 6-5 guard Amir Coffey, a Class of 2016 recruit and son of former Gophers center Richard Coffey. So far Amir has only been offered a scholarship by Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, but the Gophers are recruiting him. Rankin wrote of Amir: "Coffey has off-the-charts upside. At times he reminded me of a young [Michigan "Fab Five" guard] Jalen Rose."
One person convinced he will play against Northwestern for the Gophers football team Saturday is quarterback MarQueis Gray, who has missed the past three games because of a left high-ankle sprain. He might not be 100 percent, but he wants to try it against the Wildcats for sure. If Gray plays, that will be good news for the Gophers. In a 28-13 loss to Northwestern last year, he rushed 27 times for 160 yards and one touchdown.
The Gophers will surely try to duplicate what Penn State did in beating Northwestern 39-28 on Saturday by controlling the ball for 39 minutes, 17 seconds of the 60-minute game. A year ago the Wildcats were one of the top passing teams in the county, but currently they are ranked 95th in the country in passing with 199 yards per game, or about 55 yards per game lower than last year. However, their running game will test the Gophers -- the Wildcats rank 14th in the nation at 233.5 yards per game. ... Look for the Gophers to put some more discount tickets on sale for the game, which isn't close to being sold out.
The Twins wound up signing their first 11 picks in the MLB draft. A total of 27 players signed with the team overall.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. email@example.com