Adrian Peterson remembers the play in vivid detail.
It was an inside zone run to the left side of the offensive line and he was trying to make a cut in traffic. All the sudden he was smacked by Patrick Willis and he went down to the ground. By the way, it was Week 2 of the preseason.
“He got me on that one,” Peterson said. “He got me.”
Minnesota’s talented tailback and San Francisco’s hard-hitting linebacker have forged a relationship over the years since being selected in the 2007 NFL Draft. Peterson was taken seventh overall by the Vikings and Willis was picked 10th overall by the 49ers, but Peterson thinks they both should have been drafted earlier.
“I don’t know why me and him weren’t the No. 1 and No. 2 picks coming out,” Peterson said. “I really felt that way, because I know talent when I see it. He was a guy that I just respected off the top because of how he plays the game. We play the game the same way.”
Asked who he thought deserved to be the first pick, Peterson said, “Come on now, you going to ask that question?”
“No,” Peterson said with a laugh.
As it was, Jamarcus Russell and Calvin Johnson were the top two picks of the 2007 Draft.
Peterson has made a remarkable comeback since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in Week 16 of last season. He’s carried the ball 33 times for 144 yards and a touchdown through the first two games and said he expects to receive a heavier workload against the 49ers.
“To his credit, he worked extremely hard,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “Amazingly, he makes it back for our opening game and he comes out and he plays extremely well. But to sit here and tell you that I expected him to make it back and play as well as he played in that first game, I’d be lying. That was amazing to me, it still is. He’s doing well.”
According to Peterson, the Vikings will be facing a “heck of a defense” on Sunday at the Metrodome. Aside from Willis, Peterson and Frazier both mentioned Aldon and Justin Smith as notable contributors to the 49ers defense.
But that doesn’t mean the Vikings are going to abandon their run-first gameplan.
“If you follow us, you know that we’re going to try to establish the run and we’re not going to get away from that,” Frazier said. “Although, San Francisco, they play the run as well as anybody in our league. But we feel good about Adrian, about Toby Gerhart, about our offensive line.”
The Vikings coach isn’t only impressed with the 49ers defense. Frazier also credited the offense and special teams for taking part in the convincing victories over his team’s NFC North rivals, the Packers and Lions, to start the season.
“We have a lot of respect for both of those teams that they beat, Green Bay and Detroit,” Frazier said. “They took it to both of them. It tells me that San Francisco is a very good football team.”
Looking at tape of this year’s 49ers offense compared to last year’s unit, Frazier said the added talent at wide receiver jumps out. Adding Mario Manningham and Randy Moss to a group that already included Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree “creates a lot of problems for defenses” in Frazier’s mind.
Not to mention the 49ers are led by Alex Smith, whose 115.9 passer rating only trails Matt Ryan’s mark of 117.6 through two games played.
“The way Alex is playing, he’s so efficient with the football, he knows exactly where to go,” Frazier said. “He has the capability as well so that creates a lot of problems for any defense that lines up to play them. We’ll have our hands full defending the run game and not giving up big plays in the passing game.”
Peterson, meanwhile, has been following his counterpart Frank Gore’s career since his college days at Miami. Peterson said he’s always appreciated Gore’s North-South running style and the way he’s handled adversity, having overcome a serious knee injury while in college.
“That right there, just looking at that, that’s inspiring itself,” Peterson said.
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