Rookie Showcase Sets Up Sunday

Two of the top preseason favorites for rookie of the year will be on the same field Sunday in Detroit. While neither of them seem interested in proving their case for that honor, both of them are being talked about in extremely complimentary terms.

The top two preseason favorites for the NFL's Rookie of the Year will be on display Sunday at Ford Field, but neither Vikings running back Adrian Peterson nor Lions receiver Calvin Johnson seems all that interested in making this a showcase game in pursuit of that honor.

Johnson was the second overall pick in the draft for the Lions while Peterson was the seventh overall selection for the Vikings, sliding on draft day because of a collarbone injury and other injuries in his past while becoming a dominant-while-healthy running back at Oklahoma. Even so, Peterson told the Detroit media that he wouldn't necessarily assume he would have gone with the first or second pick in the draft if he didn't have his injury history shadowing him.

"I wouldn't say all that because there were some athletic guys, some guys with a lot of talent – Calvin Johnson for one," Peterson said. "I feel like if it wasn't the issue of the collarbone, things could have turned out differently - I don't really know what spot, but things could have turned out differently."

Peterson also said it may have been a good thing the way things turned out. So far, it's been a very good thing for the Vikings and their fans.

He entered his NFL debut expecting to split carries with starter Chester Taylor, but when Taylor went down with a bruised oblique in the first quarter after only three rushes, Peterson rushed onto the scene and delivered 103 yards on 19 carries, adding a 60-yard touchdown on a swing pass.

"He is a violent man, I'll tell you that," said Lions coach Rod Marinelli, who met with Peterson before the draft and said Detroit seriously considered drafting him with the second pick. "That guy can go downhill as hard as I've seen. He's a good back. He comes downhill at you. We know that and now we go take care of our gaps and we've got to tackle."

Peterson might stand to benefit by becoming a bit less violent. He said Thursday that he needs to be more judicious with deciding when he takes additional contact.

"I really can't recall the play call, but there was one play when it was like probably five guys trying to tackle me. Really in that situation I should have fell down. … It's just playing smart football and trying to determine when I need to get the extra yard or when I need to go down," he said.

But with his combination of speed and size – 6-foot-1, 217 pounds and arguably the strongest handshake in the NFL – it's probably not easy for him to accept anything less than that additional yard.

"Adrian is a load, boy," Marinelli said. "We knew that watching him come out of college. He is physical. All their backs are good, but boy he is special and he comes downhill and is an explosive player."

Meanwhile, Calvin Johnson is trying to run away from people and had an impressive beginning to his rookie campaign as well. The 6-foot-5, 239-pound speedster caught four passes for 70 yards and scored one touchdown in the Lions' 36-21 win at Oakland. Johnson's third reception was a 16-yard touchdown pass from QB Jon Kitna in the third quarter, which marked his first NFL career touchdown.

But Lions quarterback Jon Kitna says he feels no extra responsibility to help Johnson become the rookie of the year.

"I don't. I feel a responsibility to give this team every chance to win on Sunday. The great thing about it is Calvin could care less about that. He doesn't talk about anything that pertains to just himself. He's a pro's pro. If the numbers bear it out and he wins it at the end, great, but if not, what are you going to do about it anyway? … He's a phenomenal talent. The guy could care less about awards, in my opinion."

Peterson says he doesn't really compare himself to others in his draft class, even Johnson.

"Not really, us being different positions. It's really exciting being able to watch him when I'm on the sidelines," he said. "(I'm) not going out there to prove anything. … The main objective is to go out there and get a W. I'm just going to prepare myself to play to the best of my abilities. … Just going out there and playing fast and everything else will unfold."

What unfolded last Sunday is that both of the rookies had good days despite neither of them entering the game as a starter. That didn't seem to matter by the end of their respective contests. Both ended up as NFL Rookie of the Week candidates.

"Wow, those two guys coming out were really special," Marinelli said. "They both are just class guys, humble, physical, tough and playmakers. I think those are two really quality young men coming out of the draft."

NOTES

  • Peterson was asked how many carries would be too many for him in a game as a featured running and responded by saying 200.

  • The Vikings entered the opener planning to split carries between Taylor and Peterson, with designed plays for each of them. But Peterson said Thursday that he ended up running some of the plays designed for Taylor and attributed his success to being well-prepared by running backs coach Eric Bieniemy.

  • Johnson is far from the only solid player the developing Lions have. Veteran defensive tackle Shaun Rogers can still create problems for offensive lines.

    "They present problems to you right from the start this week with a guy like Shaun Rogers standing inside," Childress said. "That's a premium defensive tackle in this league. He's explosive. I think he has nine blocked kicks here since 2001, so you better pay attention to that guy because he can be as disruptive as he wants to be. But I see our line coming together."

    Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said Rogers and Cory Redding are "relentless" on the Lions' defensive line.

  • Taylor, dealing with his injury, was absent for the portion of practice that is open to the media Thursday.

  • Also absent during that time was defensive end Erasmus James, who was deactivated last Sunday as he continues to recover from two knee surgeries in the last year. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said waiting until after the bye week on Oct. 7 until James comes back to the lineup was a possibility. Frazier did indicate that when James is healthy, he will be active.

  • Special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro said Ryan Longwell has added distance and about two-tenths of a second in hang time to his kickoffs.

  • Ferraro also said getting Adrian Peterson more opportunities as a kick returner is a possibility, but that seems unlikely, at least until Taylor returns to the lineup. Ferraro said the return team missed a key block in Peterson's only kickoff return last week or his 22-yard return might have gone much farther.

  • Bevell said the Vikings added some plays to their arsenal this offseason designed specifically with Peterson in mind. One of those is getting Taylor and Peterson in the backfield at the same time.

  • Lions defensive end Dewayne White was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week with seven tackles, a sack and interception and two forced fumbles. White joined the Lions this offseason a free agent and this was his first Defensive Player of the Week award in his five seasons in the NFL.

  • Peterson and Kitna were each candidates for the NFC Offensive Player of the Week award, which was won by Tony Romo.


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