Vikings: Fine-tuning a talent

  • Article by: KEVIN SEIFERT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 5, 2007 - 9:47 PM

Adrian Peterson's skills are stunning enough, but his ability to take direction and set up his blockers made him a record-setter Sunday.

The adjustment was subtle, noticeable only to the people who had suggested it. Late in Sunday's 35-17 victory over San Diego, however, Vikings coach Brad Childress picked it up.

The Vikings had gained possession at the Chargers 46-yard line in the fourth quarter. Tailback Adrian Peterson took the ball and headed toward the right side of the line. Yet instead of sprinting into the developing lane, Peterson slowed for a moment.

The extra time allowed tight end Jim Kleinsasser to finish off his block on linebacker Carlos Polk. Peterson then dashed inside of Kleinsasser, found the sideline and scored the game-clinching touchdown.

Already the NFL's leading rusher when the day began, Peterson displayed new levels of sophistication Sunday in gaining an NFL-record 296 yards. While continuing to marvel over his physical attributes, Peterson's coaches and teammates were most impressed Sunday by his adherence to their subtle suggestions.

Childress, in fact, stole a smile with running backs coach Eric Bieniemy at the end of Peterson's run; it was a practice point Bieniemy has been harping on for much of the season.

"He's just setting up things better, particularly on outside runs," Childress said. "He's patient as opposed to bursting and wanting to use his speed always."

Vikings players were given Monday off and Peterson was not available for comment. But he said Sunday that he put a special emphasis on setting up his blocks during Sunday's game.

"I really studied it and looked at the other things I can do better," Peterson said.

There were at least three separate tactics Peterson employed Sunday. The first was to give Vikings linemen and tight ends a chance to engage their men before he hit the designated hole.

"It did seem like he was more patient," center Matt Birk said Monday. "It was not only letting us get on our blocks, but also helping us set up our blocks. It just felt like at some points he was a little bit more patient."

On several occasions, meanwhile, Peterson used a head-bob to redirect a linebacker out of an impending hole, much like a quarterback would look a safety away from his eventual receiver. The move forced several Chargers linebackers toward the inside, helping Vikings blockers seal them before Peterson jumped to the outside hole.

"Even this year [as a rookie], you don't know what the kid is going to do next," safety Darren Sharper said Monday. "Every time he touches the ball, you don't know. It could be the play of all time that you might watch."

Finally, Childress was gratified to see Peterson settle for a few short gains in the first half -- decisions that Childress said would allow for better-blocked plays later in the game and for the rest of the season.

In the Vikings' zone-blocking scheme, the ball carrier is expected to land at a precise point on the field; linemen block their men away from the point where the running back is headed. When a runner cuts back, he takes defenders with him -- "and it makes it look like linemen aren't blocking anybody," Childress said.

Against the Chargers, Peterson limited his cutbacks and ran to the point of his linemen's blocks. That discipline helped set up the big second half because "the lineman trusts the fact that he is going to push [defenders] in this direction.

"That's where I have seen a marked improvement," Childress said. "Just the little idiosyncrasies. ... He obviously has enough innate skills. It's just the little things."

Such subtleties, of course, are the proverbial icing on the cake. The Vikings are well aware that most of his skills can't be taught -- only refined.

"With that guy," Birk said, "you don't want to coach him up too much. Just get him the ball and he'll feel it. Then, just ride the wave. A lot of it is just feel."

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