Jerome Felton was on the free-agent market last March, a fullback who had been with three teams in two years and was looking for a good fit.
With Minnesota in the mix, figuring out the best place to go became a simpler decision for Felton. Who wouldn’t want to block for Adrian Peterson, after all?
While playing with Detroit from 2008-2010, Felton would watch Peterson run from the opposing sideline and ponder the possibility.
“I was like, ‘Man, if I could ever team up with him, I think it would be something special,’” Felton said. “That was a big thing, just to have the opportunity to come here and be able to block for him. He’s obviously a future Hall of Famer.”
Peterson’s push for 2,000 yards rushing wouldn’t happen without solid blocking in front of him, of course, and the offensive linemen, tight ends, fullbacks and wide receivers responsible for paving his paths are well aware of his standing. With an NFL-leading 1,600 yards, Peterson needs to average 134 yards over the last three games to become the seventh player to reach that mark in one season.
“I think it means a lot to the team. You kind of hear guys in the locker room talking about it. You hear the media talk about it a little bit. It’s within reach, and I feel like it’s something that he’s capable of doing and I think he wants it so we want it for him,” Felton said.
Felton might be the most unheralded of an already-under-the-radar group. Left tackle Matt Kalil was the fourth overall draft pick, sure. Center John Sullivan has been around for five seasons. Tight end Kyle Rudolph is relatively well-known, as a pass-catcher and occasional touchdown-scorer. But without any official statistics for blocking, these guys are often only known when they’re called for holding or a false start.
“They brought me in here to make life a little easier on him, and I like to say I’m doing that,” said Felton, a fifth-round pick out of Furman who spent last year with Carolina and Indianapolis. “He gives me an opportunity to show what I can do to the league and hopefully, vice versa, I make life a little easier on him. Definitely a lot of pride in that.”
Peterson has long preferred a one-back set to better see the space in front of him, but with Felton in the game the results have clearly been favorable this year.
“He can run in any system. He’s going to be a great back regardless, but all I’m trying to do is make life a little bit easier on him,” Felton said.
Without any sustained success from the passing game, defenses have naturally stacked a safety in the box around the line of scrimmage to try to stop Peterson. This makes clearing the first level more difficult, but if he gets past the linebackers in time there’s a greater chance of breaking a long gain. Three of the 10 longest carries of his six-year career have come in the last six games.
“We’ve been prepared offensively, and we’ve still been able to run the ball,” Peterson said.
He ran 31 times for 154 yards in last Sunday’s win over Chicago. That started with a 51-yard scamper on the first play from scrimmage, a simple dive play the team calls “Doctor” that involves a double team on each side of the field. Guard Brandon Fusco and tackle Phil Loadholt handled one on the right. Tight end Rhett Ellison, in as a fullback, sealed his man. Tight end John Carlson took his defender to the turf. And Peterson, who picked up a little extra at the end after a hustle block by wide receiver Jarius Wright, was off.
“That’s our bread and butter,” Fusco said.