Hovan, Gruden offer superlatives on Peterson

Former Viking Chris Hovan was gone long before Adrian Peterson arrived in Minnesota, but Hovan will get a chance to see the 2007 Offensive Rookie of the Year in person Sunday when Hovan's Bucs face Peterson's Vikings. The defensive tackle wasn't short on compliments for Peterson.

Stop Adrian Peterson and you stop the Vikings.

It sounds simplistic, but that's the philosophy the Bucs are taking into their 1 p.m. Eastern game against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

Peterson, the NFL's rushing leader, is riding a string of four 100-yard rushing performances.

"Oh man, the kid's a stud, man," defensive tackle Chris Hovan said. "You talk about the top two backs in the league and I'll put him at No. 1 right now. His explosion, running ability, the way he breaks tackles. The kid is special, man. If he keeps doing what he's doing right now, he's going to be remembered for a long time."

The Bucs defense had not allowed a 100-yard rusher or rushing touchdown until their last game at Kansas City before the bye.

"We always want to be the best at what we do," Hovan said. "But we know to be the best, you've got to take down the best and the best is coming here Sunday.

"We're very excited. ... Don't get me too anxious. I'm starting to sweat."

That's the effect Peterson has on the entire league.

In just 23 NFL games, the Vikings running back already has rushed for 2,356 yards, an average of 102 yards per game. By comparison, that's 14 more yards than Walter Payton averaged for his career.

The Rookie of the Year in 2007 has racked up four straight 100-yard rushing performances, including a 192-yard effort last week in a 28-27 win over the Packers.

Of course, maybe the question that should be asked is not how the Bucs are going to stop Peterson, but how Peterson is going to gain any yards against the Bucs.

Tampa Bay has allowed just 99.3 yards per game on the ground. More impressively, opponents average just over 3.8 yards per carry.

"We're going to show up and play now," coach Jon Gruden said. "We've seen Michael Turner, we've seen Marion Barber. It's not like we haven't seen some great backs. Here's another one coming in here. No one really comes in here as a rookie, and I don't know how many yards he had in 10 games, but Good Lord, it was a lot of yards. Last week's performance against Green Bay, just pick up the last 10 carries that the man makes and it'll get your attention."

Peterson already has drawn comparisons to Payton, Eric Dickerson and Jim Brown. What makes him rare is his size (6-1, 217) and speed (under a 4.4 40-yard dash).

"He's able to get going downhill and then on a dime, without changing speed, cut the opposite direction," linebacker Barrett Ruud said. "What he really does is test your leverage. Saying you're turning back a block and this is your free hand, he'll just run at your free hand and make you make a tackle which is something most backs don't try to do."

Offensively, the Bucs could struggle against the Vikings. Running back Earnest Graham is questionable with a knee injury, which might force Warrick Dunn to shoulder the rushing load. That could force the Bucs to try to win the game through the air. QB Jeff Garcia and WR Antonio Bryant are forming a pretty good combination, but the Bucs have struggled in the red zone.

"I think it all starts with the middle of their defense," Gruden said of the Vikings. "This Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, I don't know if they're related but they could be related. They're very big and very good. They make it very hard on you. They do a good job with their scheme. The linebackers, you'll see, will be at or near the line of scrimmage snap after snap. They're just a hard group to block. They're very, very big. Very athletic. I think they've got three or four Pro Bowlers in the mix and they rotate them. They've got some guys coming off the bench who are impressive. Ellis Wyms is one of those guys. They just keep rolling fresh guys out there. Good Lord, they're big and they're talented and they've got a nice scheme, too."

The Bucs could get some inspiration from the return of running back Cadillac Williams, who was activated from the Physically Unable to Perform list Wednesday. He has not played since suffering a torn patellar tendon in his right knee nearly 14 months ago.

"I think these players, they all understand that injuries are a terrible part of this game," Gruden said. "And when you get an injury of this magnitude, they're very much threatening to your career. Let's be honest, it's a scary thing for a player in this league. I think they've all witnessed what he's done and they get a certain amount of pride in what he's accomplished and they're really pulling for him. But if he does comes back on game day and carries the ball this year, I know our team will get excited. But they're excited about Warrick Dunn back here, too. And hopefully Earnest is ready. But to put it honestly, I just think it's a great story, he's on the comeback trail and this process has just begun."

SERIES HISTORY: 51st regular-season meeting. Vikings lead the all-time series 31-19, with most of those games being played in the old NFC Central. The Bucs have won six of the past nine and four of the past five meetings. The Bucs also are 7-1 over the last eight games in the series played in Tampa.

NOTES

  • Running back Cadillac Williams returned to the 53-man roster Wednesday for the first time in nearly 14 months since suffering a torn patellar tendon in his right knee. How much he plays the final seven games remains to be seen, but the Bucs plan to take it slowly.

    "I think this is a process, as we've talked about," coach Jon Gruden said. "It's just a terrible injury and a tremendous story what he's done. His role today was to carry the ball 30 times and try to emulate Adrian Peterson. Let's be honest, Monday was the first time he's been hit since last year at Carolina. I don't expect him to be the feature back this week. I don't know about game day activations at this point. We're just going to try to get him back, try to get him back. We're doing the best we can. We've studied it. I really think we're doing the right thing. Again, his role this Sunday is to be announced. But it's a process."

  • The Vikings have given up six kick returns for touchdowns this season, tying an NFL record after only nine games. Tampa Bay got a 97-yard kickoff return for a TD in their last game against the Chiefs prior to the bye week from Clifton Smith. But Gruden says stats on special teams are misleading.

    "Statistically, it says that," Gruden said. "Then you look at maybe a few freak plays where the ball is bouncing and ricochets off somebody and it's a fluke, freak touchdown. There's been a couple of those where you really don't count on that happening. So these guys try hard on special teams. The return that the Green Bay man made last week, it was a great return. And Clifton, hopefully we can get some good looks for him and he can continue to do what he's done. They're a lot better than what the stats say and a lot of people don't believe that because they don't have time to look at all the frames of tape. Statistics say they've given up some big plays and the reality is they've also made some plays themselves."

  • WR Ike Hilliard still is having headaches and other issues resulting from the concussion he sustained against Seattle nearly a month ago. He is trying to rehab the injury but may have to miss a game or two. But Hilliard practiced Wednesday and is determined to continue playing.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 102 - Vikings RB Adrian Peterson's rushing average per game, which is 14 higher than Walter Payton's career average.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "They're 5-4 and in first place. They've got a lot of talent on their roster. We're going to have to play a great game." — Bucs coach Jon Gruden on the Vikings.

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