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Thursday, December 20, 2012
Vikings: Jerome Felton reinvents himself

By Kevin Seifert

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- As recently as a month ago, Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson insisted his preference was to run out of a one-back set rather than behind a fullback. These days, however, not even Peterson can deny the effectiveness and impact of fullback Jerome Felton.

Peterson acknowledged Thursday that Felton has "helped put me in position" to break Eric Dickerson's record for rushing yards in a season. As we discussed last month and can now update in this post, the numbers are absolutely overwhelming in favor of the Vikings' two-back set after years of primarily using Peterson as a single back.

When Felton leads the way, Peterson is averaging 7.7 yards per carry and has ripped off 18 runs of at least 20 yards. Out of the one-back set, meanwhile, Peterson's average is 3.6 yards per carry and he has two plays of at least 20 yards. The chart, courtesy ESPN Stats & Information, provides further details.

The dichotomy represents a career renaissance for Felton, the former Detroit Lions fullback who had some decent moments as a ball carrier and receiver but wasn't used much as a blocker in Scott Linehan's offense. Even then, Felton dreamed of blocking for Peterson in a two-back offense. He knew of Peterson's aversion to that scheme but said: "I thought if I could team up with him, I would make him like it."

You don't have to look any further than Peterson's 82-yard run last Sunday against the St. Louis Rams to see Felton's impact. Felton got through the hole quickly -- a requirement to keep ahead of the hard-charging Peterson -- and shielded Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis for several seconds while Peterson bounced around and finally darted downfield off Felton's left hip.

"He wants to go," Felton said. "So as a fullback, you have to be able to adjust and get out of his way. You have to see the hole and try to explode through the hole like he does."

Like a quarterback with a new receiver, Peterson has passed along some personal preferences to Felton. Among them: Take a short step on draw plays instead of the traditional long one, all in an effort to accommodate how quickly Peterson hits the hole.

That works for Felton, who is quicker than most fullbacks and not necessarily one who tries to pancake every opponent.

"My style fits him," Felton said. "I'm not a big 'try to muscle guys out and plod through the hole.' I try to get movement, get out of his way and open the hole. I think that's what we've developed. He's realized that and appreciates the success we've had."

Related: David Flemming of ESPN The Magazine took a look at how Dickerson originally set the record. Here is a long Grantland.com profile of Peterson from Steve Marsh. Finally, we posted 13 mostly stunning statistical facts about Peterson's season earlier this week.