Jared Allen came within a sack of setting the single-season record in 2011, but he had "only" 12 this year. He knows how difficult it is to repeat greatness in consecutive seasons.
Still, Allen isn't putting it past his teammate, running back Adrian Peterson, to rush for more than 2,000 yards again in 2013. Peterson had 2,097 yards rushing in 2012, the vast majority of that coming within one year of Peterson having reconstructive knee surgery.
After falling short of Eric Dickerson's single-season record of 2,105 by eight yards, Peterson said getting 2,500 yards is a realistic goal. Sounds crazy, right? Allen thinks so, too, but he also has a theory on why it might be possible these days.
"You look at the athletes in this league these days and it's ridiculous, some of these guys. I think we had, I heard of more 200-yard rushing games this year than I ever heard of," Allen said. "You're getting these guys in these colleges and I know they're running these spread offenses, but these kids are used to running for 200 yards so there's that mindset of this is what we're going to do."
However, the Vikings are far from running a spread offense. Their bread and butter is running the ball and defenses know it, stacking the line of scrimmage more than ever to stop Peterson.
Vikings coaches admit that when they scout opposing defenses, those defensive coordinators often approach other teams differently than they do when faced with the prospect of trying to stop Peterson. But, as Allen's theory goes, if defenses in general have to prepare for passing attacks around the league, they may not be as well-suited to stop the run.
Advantage, Peterson, as if he needed another advantage.
"With the way the league is, because it is such a pass-dominant league, you're seeing smaller fronts. You're not having a 330-pound nose tackle anymore," Allen said. "You've got to have guys that can rush the passer because of these spread offenses and the check-down systems. You get some people that like to run the ball and you get smaller people on the field, 2,500 might not be a stretch."
Frankly, it would be fun to witness. Watching Peterson run during the second half of the 2012 season was the most entertaining Vikings offense to witness since Randy Moss' rookie season in 1998. If they were simple runs, it might have been the most boring offense, like the one witnessed in 2006, when Brad Childress ran Chester Taylor into the ground.
But with Peterson nothing is simple. He has the power of Earl Campbell and the determination of Walter Payton. The more defenses loaded the box, it seemed the more likely the succeeding run could be the next 50-yarder in a year that featured plenty of those. Defenses essentially had to pick their poison – play into Peterson's "famine, famine, feast" mantra by committing extra defenders to try to slow him at the line of scrimmage and knowing that, if he got past that it, would be foot race, or hope that allowing the chains to advance with a series of 7-yard runs would eventually stop.
As the season progressed, it was clear Peterson was feeling better about his knee and more confident with each passing week. It didn't hurt that the Jerome Felton provided Peterson with the best fullback he's had since at least Tony Richardson in 2007.
Felton doesn't think 2,500 yards for Peterson is a crazy thought, either.
"I don't really feel like it is. You look at – how many is that? – 155 yards a game, 160 yards a game, something like that. I think it's doable. We'll see," Felton said.
Really, who is going to doubt Peterson? He said he would come back better than he was before the knee injury and he did. He has never been short on work ethic, and what he went through for the first eight months of 2012 was incredible to witness.
In May, he was already running in a straight line without a brace and showing off his vertical burst with plyometrics. Each month was a new marker crossed, and when he was tirelessly toiling under the heat of Mankato's training camp, the only thing left to see was how he would react in a football game. The reins were kept tight until the regular-season opener, but it wasn't until almost halfway through the season that he started rattling off 100- and 150-yard performances on nearly a weekly basis, and even mixed in a couple 200-yard behemoths.
"I was going to take advantage of every opportunity through that process of rehabbing and doing the things that I can do during that recovery, and each step I was going to maximize those opportunities. So now I'm looking into it, just having that experience last year, now I get to go into this offseason coming back better than I was before, and reaching out to a lot of guys this offseason and try to get those guys to come up to Houston or Arizona, wherever I have to go to kind of get a group together to work out, and we can start doing this thing together," Peterson said.
Peterson says he didn't "wow" himself with what he accomplished in 2012, but he certainly impressed everyone else.
"This is what I expected. I know it sounds nonchalant, but I assure you that I did," he said. "That's why I'm able to take things as it is. But I felt that there's just room for me to get better, and I look forward to doing that."
Peterson said he enjoyed going for Dickerson's record, but he wasn't out to please other people. He admits that no one has ever has ever tried to reach the 2,500-yard mark, but Peterson possesses an unquenchable competitive thirst.
At this point, no one is going to put it past him.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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