Felton takes pride in A.P.'s record-chasing

Fullback Jerome Felton could be the under-appreciated cog in Adrian Peterson's spectacular season. Felton has turned around the idea that Peterson is better without a fullback and says he is like "the Secret Service protecting the president."

In a league in which players earn big contracts by being out front and center, Jerome Felton is often the forgotten man in the Vikings offense. While Peterson is the Ferrari that steams down the field, Felton is the plow that clears the road for him to hit full speed.

By the nature of the position, a fullback is a selfless role in an offense. His job is to clear a path for the running back to find a seam in the defense and, if it means him falling going face up with a middle linebacker at full speed, it's part of the job. He doesn't wear sunglasses or an earpiece, but Felton's job is to serve primarily as Peterson's anonymous security detail.

"I take a lot of pride in it," Felton said. "That's what they brought me in here for is to protect him. It's kind of like being compared to the Secret Service protecting the president. That's how I look at it. I take a lot of pride in it because he's a Hall of Fame back and it feels good to block for him."

In an era where contract extensions and free-agent deals are based on statistics, Felton's contribution is away from the spotlight. Defensive ends are rated largely according to sacks. Receivers are rated on receptions and touchdowns. Running backs are rated on yardage and explosive plays. Quarterbacks are ranked on passer rating, completion percentage, yards and touchdowns. But what about a fullback? There isn't a statistical category for delivering a pancake block or leading a runner through a hole.

Felton said the great fullbacks all realize that, when they're doing their job well, they don't show up on the stat sheet, but considering the rushing yards the featured back gains is an extension of their hard work as well.

"My statistics are more based on what Adrian's doing," Felton said. "As long as he's having success, I feel like I'm having success. Luckily, we've had a lot of success and hopefully it will continue."

The fact that Peterson has been so successful with a fullback – he's averaging seven yards a carry on plays in which Felton is lead blocking for him – is something new to the A.D. experience. As a rookie, Peterson built a strong relationship with veteran Tony Richardson and, when the Vikings didn't re-sign Richardson in 2008, Peterson became a more vocal critic of fullbacks. He stated many times that he preferred to line up seven yards deep in the backfield and pick his own holes. It took a while for Peterson and Felton to mesh, but the fullback believes the two have forged a bond that needed time to grow.

"A lot of people have made a big deal out of him saying in the past that he liked running out of one-back (formations)," Felton said. "As with all great running backs, he likes what works. I think we've been able to establish trust in each other and grow our relationship. I think it's translating on the field."

Peterson's main complaint about having fullbacks in front of him was that they too often got in his way and, in a strange twist, actually became more like a 12th defender than an offensive teammate. The biggest thing Felton had to learn was that he had to hit the running lane with same abandon that Peterson does. If he doesn't, Peterson will run right up his back. But it was that challenge that made Felton want to be a teammate of Peterson's rather than a spectator watching from the other sideline the magical things Peterson is capable of.

"He hits the hole so hard, if you're not getting on your horse, you can definitely get in his way," Felton said. "That's something we've developed throughout the season. I just wanted to have a chance to block for a great back like that. I'd seen him a lot when I was in Detroit and knew we could have a good relationship and have a lot of success if I could get here. I'm happy to be here."

The record-setting streak Peterson has been on these last eight games is something that Felton marvels at. It's a streak of success that has never been matched over any eight-game stretch in NFL history by the greatest running backs in the league. To be part of it is something Felton relishes – knowing that, at any time, if he hits a block that springs Peterson, he can do the rest on his own.

"It's special," Felton said. "The line makes a good block, (I) make a good block and, all of the sudden, he's down the middle of the field for 80 (yards). Not everybody can do that. A lot of those runs are 15-yard runs for other people, but, with him, he can take it to the house at any point. It makes you go harder. It makes you more motivated to get your job done so you can help him do that."

As Peterson chases down one of the most iconic records in league history, the odds are still against him. It took averaging 164 yards over half a season to set the record pace he is on. It will take a 147-yard average the final two games to get to the top spot of 2,105 yards set by Eric Dickerson in 1984. Can he do it?

If and when Peterson etches his name at the top of the all-time single-season rushing list, Felton will be an asterisk in history. Who was Dickerson's fullback? Not many people other than Rams fans in the mid-1980s can correctly answer that question because, by the nature of their job, fullbacks are supposed to be seen and not heard. But, for Felton, if Peterson joins the exclusive 2,000-yard club or makes it all the way to the top and knocks Dickerson off his record mark, it will be a moment he will carry with him for a lifetime.

"I'll be able to tell my grandkids about it," Felton said. "I think it's important to our whole team. The most important thing is getting wins, but when Adrian is successful, that helps our team. That's what we're focused on."

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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