Turner knows how to handle the best backs

New offensive coordinator Norv Turner is known for a vertical passing game, but he coached running backs to the NFL rushing title five times in his career and talked about the position in relation to Adrian Peterson.

Adrian Peterson was the focus of one of the first pictures Norv Turner saw at the Minnesota Vikings' facility upon taking the job of offensive coordinator in January.

The picture hanging in the hallway at Winter Park represented the best single-game rushing mark in NFL history. As a rookie, Peterson rushed for 296 yards on Nov. 4, 2007 against the San Diego Chargers. Turner was head coach of the San Diego Chargers at the time.

"It was one of the first pictures I saw of me standing on the sideline watching Adrian run down the sideline in the game that he broke the NFL rushing record, so I've seen (Peterson's talent) first-hand. I've seen him at his best first-hand," Turner said Thursday as he was introduced as head coach Mike Zimmer's offensive coordinator.

Turner comes to Minnesota with a reputation for a vertical passing game, but he knows all about quality running backs. He coached another record-setter, Emmitt Smith, who holds the NFL career rushing yardage mark with 18,355 yards.

In fact, Turner's offensive system has produced the NFL's leading rusher for a season five times through three different players in Smith (1991-93), Ricky Williams (2002) and LaDainian Tomlinson (2007).

Just one season removed from his 2,000-yard campaign and coming up eight yards short of the single-season mark, there are bound to be comparisons between Peterson, Smith and the other great running backs that have excelled under Turner.

"I don't know how you can compare guys at that level because they all have their own way of doing things. Their own special set of skills," Turner said. "To play at that level, my first year coaching with the Rams, Eric Dickerson was there and coaching Emmitt and Terry Allen, who was here, he broke (John) Riggins' record when I was in Washington. I've been fortunate. Ricky Williams led the league in rushing when I was with him. I've been fortunate to be around some great ones and I think they all are different, but the one thing they have is that ultimate competitiveness and desire and certainly Adrian has all those things."

Turner called Peterson a "warrior" and said one of the keys to having a running back end up as the league's leading rusher in any given years is keeping him healthy. So the ideal number of carries can vary depending on circumstance.
"You have to take that pounding, and it is a pounding to carry the ball that many times," Turner said. "But as crazy as it sounds, getting ahead in games, you get ahead in games and it gives you the opportunity to run the ball. There have been different studies done, but I know with Emmitt, he had a lot of yards late in the third quarter or in the fourth quarter where you're putting a team away, you're ahead in a game, you're goal and your plan is to wear a team down and run the ball. Usually in those situations, guys break long runs because people are trying to get the ball back. To me, all those things are secondary goals. My first year in San Diego, L.T. led the league in rushing and I don't think he played three or four games in the second half. That's not your ultimate goal. Your ultimate goal is to get to the playoffs and be as good a team as you can be – be at your best when you get to the playoffs and be healthy."

Peterson can relate to Turner's sentiment about being able to stay healthy. He played through hamstring, groin and foot injuries through much of the 2013 season before missing two of the final three games. In 2012, he played in all 16 games coming off reconstructive knee surgery in December 2011, but he also had surgery to repair a sports hernia last offseason after playing with that pain for the last half of the 2012 season.

Turner said 25 carries a game for 16 games is "way, way too many" for a running back, even Peterson.

"I think games dictate that and touches are important and getting a guy in space is important. Adrian, he is a warrior and he's run the ball in closed-in quarters with a lot of defenders there and he makes a lot of long runs, making people miss or running over people," Turner said. "It's hard to do, but we would like to get him in space and getting the field spread a little bit better for 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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