Adrian Peterson: Sublime, yes, but also subtle

  • Article by: JUDD ZULGAD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 8, 2007 - 2:27 PM

The Vikings see those moves and that speed, too, but they look even closer than the rest of us, and then their top draft pick looks even better.

The spin move.

That's what almost everyone who saw Adrian Peterson fake cornerback Andre Dyson out of his cleats will remember about the rookie's 43-yard run in the Vikings' preseason game against the New York Jets. But that's not what stood out to running backs coach Eric Bieniemy.

"You look at it and say, 'Hey, pretty impressive move,' " Bieniemy said. "But the thing I was proud of, it wasn't so much the spin move, it was the patience that he displayed on the run. It was the idea that he did everything we asked him to do and then he finished the run downfield, which was very impressive."

Bieniemy knows Peterson is capable of making eye-popping moves that will leave defenders reaching for air. That part can't be taught. But what can be is patience in waiting for lanes to open, pass-blocking techniques and knowing when to lower a shoulder into an opponent, as Peterson did to Jets corner David Barrett near the sideline at the end of that run.

Those are the things Bieniemy has been working on with Peterson in the countless hours they have spent together on the field and in meeting rooms since the seventh overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft arrived at training camp following a five-day holdout.

"It's a lot to pick up, a lot to learn," Peterson said. "I look back and am like, 'Man, this is the most football I've learned since I've been playing.' So it's definitely a difference."

Peterson spent the past three seasons at Oklahoma proving that when healthy, he is something special. He rushed for 4,045 yards on 747 carries, averaging 5.4 yards per carry, and 41 touchdowns in 31 games. Problem was, he played only one complete season and was sidelined at various times by ankle, shoulder and collarbone injuries.

The fractured left collarbone Peterson suffered in October last season and then reinjured Jan. 1 at the Fiesta Bowl caused him to slip in the draft. Despite the fact they already had 1,000-yard rusher Chester Taylor, the Vikings were more than happy to grab Peterson, and they rewarded him with a five-year contract that includes $17 million in guaranteed money.

Now, Bieniemy is working on making Peterson "a complete player at this level."We're working on footwork in the run game, just making sure we're having great attention to detail with that," Bieniemy said. "Because, yes, he does have a tremendous God-given ability, but he also has to be in sync with the guys working in front of him. On top of that, we are working on pass protection.

"Just making sure he understands all the different type of protection concepts that we have and where he fits. And also we're working on route running. So, as you can see, the whole process is utilizing his ability to the best that we can."

Peterson caught only 24 passes in his collegiate career, and some believed he didn't have very good hands. But Bieniemy dismissed that theory by pointing out Peterson was at Oklahoma to run the ball and not catch it. In the NFL, he will be required to do both.

If Peterson turns into the type of player many believe he can be, there is little doubt he will become the focus of sponsors and fans. This is an area in which Peterson is no stranger.

Sports Illustrated's choice for its cover shot previewing the draft, Peterson experienced the adoration of the Vikings faithful from his first day at training camp and reciprocated by signing autographs nearly daily. Some top-flight running backs seem sullen and withdrawn. Peterson frequently wears a big smile.

Asked about his fan-friendly philosophy, Peterson said: "I just put myself in that position and remember once when I was a fan. It's just basically giving back and being blessed to have that opportunity. It feels good to give back to the people that support you."

In this area, Bieniemy knows he doesn't have any teaching to do.

"I've known this kid now for about four or five years, having the opportunity to recruit him out of high school," said Bieniemy, who tried unsuccessfully to get Peterson to UCLA. "He was the same kid then as he is today. And the thing about it is, he's not caught up in the fact that his name was quote-unquote Adrian Peterson, seventh pick of the draft. He's still an innocent kid from Palestine, Texas, who enjoys playing football and wants to prove to everybody that he can play this game at a high level."

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  • COACH SPEAK Running backs coach Eric Bieniemy broke down Adrian Peterson with staff writer Judd Zulgad. Between the ears:"He's a very smart football player, and the thing about it is he's going to learn more the more he plays. So he's going to be a very intelligent football player, when it's all said and done as we look back upon his career." His brute strength: "This ain't got nothing to do with football. Don't shake his hand. Some of his strengths are obviously his running ability, his speed, his quickness. Obviously he can catch the ball out of the backfield, but those are all the things that he brings to the table. And very, very tough. Very tough." Hands: "I think that was the misconception at Oklahoma, that he couldn't catch the ball. They didn't throw the ball to him. They had other guys to do that. They gave him the ball. We haven't had any problems with him catching the ball. He has very good hands." Speed: "Speedwise, obviously, he's lightning fast. He's extremely fast and powerful. We just need to make sure that we can control his tempo. "Adrian is going to be faster than a lot of players in the NFL, but you've got to understand that [Peterson and Taylor are] both very, very quick and very explosive through the hole." Running style: "Very strong, very powerful. And the thing about it is everybody talks about his running style as being high. The thing about it is he knows how to lower his pad level and drop the boom on you when he needs to. "Everybody runs a certain way, everybody has their unique ability to run the ball. But understand this, as a runner you learn how to protect yourself. He may be running high, but don't get fooled by his tall stature. "I guess others are more concerned about [his style] more than me. I've seen this kid run the ball for a number of years. It does not concern me."
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