Pittsburgh limited Adrian Peterson to 21 yards in 12 carries for a 1.8 average Saturday night in a 12-10 victory.

In two preseason games, Peterson has rushed 20 times for just 51 yards. The offensive rookie of the year last season, Peterson gained an NFC-best 1,341 yards on 238 carries (5.6 yards per carry).

Last year he gained 146 yards in 30 attempts (4.9 yard-average) in the preseason.

Despite Peterson's slow start, Mike Tomlin, the former Vikings defensive coordinator and now the head coach of the Steelers, looks for the former Oklahoma star to break out.

"I'm sure that's not anything that's new to him,'' Tomlin said of Peterson facing stacked lines. ''I'm sure he saw quite a few eight-, nine-man fronts in Oklahoma and in high school and in every level of competition he's been in. He sees it because he's a special player, he's a special runner. He's found ways to be successful in the past, I'm sure he'll find ways to be successful in the future."

Tomlin was impressed by many of the players he coached the one year he was with the Vikings.

"I thought they were a physical football team," Tomlin said. "They're strong in the lines of scrimmage. They play the battle of attrition. They're always going to be a rough-and-tumble outfit, I know that's Brad's [Childress] personality. I have a great deal of respect for them."

Tomlin had good things to say about two former Gophers now with the Steelers -- running back Gary Russell and tight end Matt Spaeth.

"Gary came in and provided some hard runs for us," Tomlin said. "He's had a good preseason, he's been a downhill runner. He knows what his strengths are as a runner, and he displays that when he's got the ball in his hands. I thought he did a nice job.

"Spaeth has been rock solid for us as a tight end. We use quite a few two-tight-end sets; he's the 12th starter on our offense, if you will. A very reliable guy, an emerging second- year guy."

Hammock knows NIU

Gophers running back coach Thomas Hammock was on the Northern Illinois staff in 2005 and 2006 before he joined Tim Brewster's staff at Minnesota, so he is familiar with some members of the team the Gophers will face here Saturday.

"Yes, some of them are back," he said. "Some of the kids were young kids. A couple of lineman played my last season; the left tackle, the left guard and the center all played my last season. Some of the outstanding kids that are back are running back Justin Anderson, wide receiver Matt Simon, defensive end Larry English, cornerback Melvin Rice, middle linebacker Tim McCarthy.''

Hammock has a lot of respect for quarterback Dan Nicholson, who completed 151 of 248 passes for 1,633 yards, nine touchdowns and 14 interceptions last season.

"He's a good quarterback. He's a pocket passer," Hammock said of Nicholson, who has been injured. "He throws a good ball."

Hammock expects Northern Illinois, which was 2-10 last year, to be very competitive.

"I'm sure that they'll be ready to play, we'll be ready to play,'' Hammock said. ''So I'll just be interested to see how it goes.

"I just know a little bit about the kids. I have been around them for two years and recruited a bunch of them."

Hammock said he doubts his knowledge of the NIU players will help the Gophers.

"I don't think it gives us an advantage,'' Hammock said. ''They have a new scheme, a new philosophy."


Jerry Bell, president of Twin Sports Inc., said the financial outlook for the teams in baseball has changed in the past few years. Most every team, including the Twins, is making money, with the Internet and other innovations playing a big part in the change. Carl Pohlad paid $38 million for the Twins in 1984, and now the team is worth more than 10 times that amount, with the new stadium making the club even more valuable once it opens in 2010. .... Look for the Twins to continue to try to make a deal to get lefthanded reliever Eddie Guardado from the Rangers. The Twins made a good offer, but the Rangers turned them down.

It's interesting that all three players that the Twins wanted from the Yankees for Johan Santana have had horrible years. Center fielder Melky Cabrera was recently sent to the minor leagues, and pitchers Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy contributed little.

One of the more aggressive graduate assistant coaches who has been on the campus in recent years is Jim Jackson, who came to the Gophers from Louisiana Lafayette, where he was a defensive graduate assistant. He is an assistant offensive line coach under Phil Meyer.

Former Wayzata basketball player Chris Taylor, son of former Gopher Corky Taylor, is touring Europe with his Brown University team and sparked his team to a victory over a professional team in France the other night by scoring six points in the last five minutes.

Former Vikings offensive tackle Tim Irwin has a son, Connor, who will attend Duke on a football scholarship this fall. Tim is a judge for Knox County in Knoxville, Tenn.

Now that Air Force Academy has backed out of the football game that was to be played in Colorado in 2110, the Gophers will pay the Falcons about $500,000 to play one game here. The Gophers will try to find a road game to replace Air Force, possibly with a home-and-home series with another team or maybe even add another home game.

Former Gophers offensive lineman Ben Hamilton, who sat out last year with the Broncos because of health problems, has played in both Denver exhibition games as he starts his eighth NFL season.

Matt Carufel, the offensive lineman who transferred from Notre Dame, and defensive back Kim Royston, who left Wisconsin for Minnesota, will contend for starting positions next year, according to the Gophers coaches. Both have to sit out this season and are paying their own way because transfers within the Big Ten Conference can't receive scholarships.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast twice a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com