Their eyes give them away.
Prolific runners are not built on an assembly line. Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders were shifty and squat. Walter Payton and LaDainian Tomlinson were proportioned for power and speed. Jim Brown and Adrian Peterson got every genetic gift.
But in the time frame before a big gain, while the optic nerves flood the brain with football data, the best backs are identical below the brow. The eyelids stretch. The whites of the eyes pop. Peripheral vision expands.
Pair that visual processing speed with unearthly physical skills and you’ve got an All-Pro tailback.
When discussing Peterson, whom the Redskins will face Thursday night in Minnesota, defensive end Kedric Golston talked about the runner’s visual awareness, then his physical oddities.
“If a defensive lineman gets nosey and gets out of his gap, he’s going to see that,” Golston said. “He’s going to turn what should be a 3-yard gain into a 50-yard gain. That’s the type of back he is, extremely explosive.”
The 2012 NFL MVP has been a lightning rod for conversation around Washington since the end of last season.
Peterson is a natural foil for Robert Griffin III. Optimists pointed to the back’s advanced recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament as Griffin III’s best case scenario for recuperating from his own knee reconstruction.
After suffering a torn ACL in December 2011, Petersen became the seventh back to rush for more than 2,000 yards in 2012. This week, comparisons to Griffin III’s recovery are back in the news.
But in the Redskins’ locker room this week, the conversation around Peterson focused on what makes him so difficult to stop.
“He’s able to cut on a dime and get lateral and find creases,” linebacker London Fletcher said. “That part is definitely an underrated part of his game when you’re talking about the vision part.”
Fletcher compared Peterson to former teammate Marshall Faulk and old adversary Tomlinson, saying it was a coin flip for between those three for the greatest back he’d seen.
Linebacker Brian Orakpo has the most experience with Peterson, facing him when the two were Big 12 Conference rivals at Texas and Oklahoma.
“(He’s) one of the best in the game, if not in the history of this game with what he brings to the table: his power, his quickness and his elusiveness in the hole,” Orakpo said. “He sees the hole, he’s hitting it, and then he also knows how to either run people over or make them miss.”
For all the talking, Peterson has not fared well against Washington. The Redskins held him to less than 40 yards rushing in three of four meetings.
Last season, Petersen racked up 129 total yards at FedExField. His seven receptions in that game were a season high.
The running back returns home to the Metrodome a week after abusing the Cowboys. On one fourth down at Dallas, Peterson absorbed a hit to his hip at the 4-yard line, allowed another blow to put him back on balance and trudged his way into the end zone with a slight assists from his tight end.
Orakpo said bringing three or four defenders to the ball will be key to slowing Peterson.
You don’t want to look into those eyes alone.
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