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Updated: February 6th, 2014 6:23pm
Zulgad: Norv Turner's run of coaching great backs set to continue

Zulgad: Norv Turner's run of coaching great backs set to continue

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by Judd Zulgad

As Norv Turner walked through the hallways at Winter Park, he received a visual reminder of why accepting Mike Zimmer's offer to become the Minnesota Vikings' offensive coordinator might be the right move.

"One of the first pictures I saw (was) of me standing on the sideline watching Adrian run down the sideline in the game that he broke the NFL rushing record," Turner said.

Turner was in his first season as head coach of the San Diego Chargers on Nov. 4, 2007 when Peterson, then a rookie, set the league's single-game rushing mark by gaining 296 yards in the Vikings' 35-17 victory at the Metrodome.

It now will be Turner's turn to watch Peterson cause headaches for opponents. Although many of the hires have been known for weeks, Turner, and the rest of Zimmer's coaching staff, was officially announced on Thursday.

There were two key topics for a guy long considered to be an elite offensive mind to address.

The first focused on the quarterback position. A spot that remains so unsettled that there is a possibility the 2014 starter isn't even on the roster.

The second topic was far more pleasant because it centered on Peterson, who will be entering his eighth season when training camp opens this July in Mankato.

This will be Peterson's third offensive coordinator in his time with the Vikings. Darrell Bevell, working under Brad Childress, coordinated the offense from Peterson's rookie season through 2010. Bill Musgrave spent the past three years drawing up (sometimes questionable) plays for Peterson and Co.

The names changed but Peterson's success didn't.

He led the NFL in rushing in 2008 with 1,760 yards and then topped that with a remarkable 2,097-yard output in 2012. That was the second-best single-season rushing mark in league history and led to him being named NFL MVP.

Peterson will turn 29 years old on March 21, meaning he's nearing the not-so-magical age of 30 when running backs start an often-rapid decline, and he will be coming off his third surgery in as many offseasons.

But that doesn't mean the Turner-Peterson combination isn't going to be a good one -- even if it's for the short term.

Turner, 61, whose first job as an NFL assistant came in 1985 when he was named wide receivers coach for the Los Angeles Rams, has directed offenses that produced the league's leading rusher five times.

That includes three rushing titles for Dallas' Emmitt Smith (1991-93) and one apiece for Miami's Ricky Williams (2002) and San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson (2007).

Turner was the Cowboys' offensive coordinator for the three seasons that Smith led the league in rushing, served in the same role when Williams had his big year for the Dolphins and was Tomlinson's head coach.

Turner's experience with Hall of Fame to upper-echelon running backs doesn't end there. Although he was never his position coach, Eric Dickerson was a star running back for the Rams when Turner joined the team.

So does Turner see similarities in these backs?

"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," said Turner, who was fired as Chargers coach after the 2012 season and had a one-year stint as Cleveland's offensive coordinator in 2013. "They all are different but one thing they have is that ultimate competitiveness and desire. Certainly, Adrian has all of those things."

What Peterson needs is a quarterback who can get the ball down the field, so defenses can't load up the box against him and focus on the run. This has been a recurring theme with the Vikings for almost Peterson's entire time with the franchise.

The one year that wasn't the case was in 2009, when an aging Brett Favre had one of his best seasons and Sidney Rice emerged as a legitimate deep threat. Peterson rushed for 1,383 yards that season and the Vikings advanced to the NFC title game.

It will be up to general manager Rick Spielman and Zimmer to find a quarterback who at the very least has to be shown some respect, but Turner will be relied upon to make use of offensive personnel that includes veteran Greg Jennings and the dynamic Cordarrelle Patterson at wide receiver and Kyle Rudolph at tight end.

Patterson has to consider it good news that Browns receiver Josh Gordon, in his second season, led the NFL with 1,646 yards receiving in 2013 and was second with an average of 18.9 yards per catch.

The more guys like Patterson, Jennings and Rudolph touch the football, the more defenses must take some of the focus off Peterson.

"I think the best offenses I've been with -- and I've been fortunate to be with some really good ones -- to me it's all about having balance and you have to be good at enough things so if a team is going to overplay the run you can throw it," Turner said. "If they're going to back off and play more conservatively, you can run it.

"Obviously, you have to be able to do what you want. There are times where you have to say, 'We are going to run it no matter what,' or, 'We're going to throw it no matter what.' But balance to me is the most critical thing. And having a running back like Adrian can and should help a young quarterback. It can be a hindrance sometimes because if you're not giving him the ball it's like you're not trying to win. But those are things I've dealt with and we just have to manage."

If Turner can successfully manage this offense in 2014, he might end up being the most popular guy in Minnesota. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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