Why Norv Turner Will Mean Big Things for Vikings RB Adrian Peterson

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IJanuary 31, 2014

Norv Turner's extensive history with talented running backs suggests that the new offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings will get the very best out of Adrian Peterson

Seemingly everywhere his 23 years of coaching offense as a coordinator or head coach has taken him, Turner has managed to coax highly productive seasons from the running back position.

Emmitt Smith in Dallas. Stephen Davis in Washington. LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego. Ricky Williams in Miami. Frank Gore in San Francisco. These are top-end talents that thrived with Turner in town. But even the likes of Terry Allen and LaMont Jordan produced their best NFL seasons under the Vikings' new offensive coordinator. 

Peterson, the 2012 NFL MVP, should be no different. 

"I think (Turner) is going to be the perfect guy to come in and get us on the right path," Peterson said this week, via Tom Pelissero of USA Today. 

Peterson's main evidence for that comment stems from his belief that Turner will turn around the Vikings passing game, and there's probably truth in that theory. Turner has worked at length with the likes of Troy Aikman and Philip Rivers, and the Cleveland Browns surprisingly finished 11th in the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns last season despite working with three different starting quarterbacks. 

Turner can coach quarterbacks, and he knows how to develop talent-specific ways of attacking in the passing game. But his work with the running back position is what should really be exciting Peterson. 

Over 23 years as either coordinator or head coach, Turner has produced 15 1,000-yard rushers. Five times, his running back has won the NFL's rushing title. 

Some will argue that Turner has simply had great luck in landing with offenses already featuring great backs. Maybe that's true, but his history shows a consistent ability to get the most out of that talent. And with Adrian Peterson still in Minnesota, getting the best now could mean big things. 

Here's a brief look at how the running back position has fared at every one of Turner's NFL stops. 


Dallas Cowboys (1991-1993)

Turner's Top RB: Dallas Cowboys, 1991-1993
1991E. Smith365*1563*1297.7491821
1992E. Smith3731713*18*107.1*592048
1993E. Smith2831486*9106.1*571900*
*Led NFL

Turner's first three years as a coordinator brought him to Dallas, where a young Smith was about to become the NFL's most dominant running back. From 1991 to 1993—encompassing Turner's entire run with the Cowboys—Smith led the NFL in rushing every season with the following numbers: 1,563 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 1991, 1,713 and 18 in 1992 and 1,486 and nine in 1993. 

In 1992 and 1993, the Cowboys finished in the top five for rushing yards and second in rushing touchdowns. Smith finished first in yards per carry in 1993, rushing touchdowns and yards from scrimmage in 1992 and yards per game in 1992 and 1993. He was a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro. 

Overall, Smith averaged 103.5 rushing yards a game and 1,587 yards per season under Turner. He also caught 165 passes, his second most over a three-year span in his career. Smith's three-year averages from 1991 to 1993 came to 55 catches and 1,923 yards from scrimmage. 

Over the last three seasons with the Vikings, Peterson has averaged 103.2 rushing per game, 1,444 yards per season and 1,620 yards from scrimmage. He has never caught more than 43 passes in a season, which is something Smith did in all three seasons under Turner (49, 59, 57).


Washington Redskins (1994-2000)

Turner's Top RB: Washington Redskins, 1994-2000
1994R. Ervins185650340.651943
1995T. Allen33813091081.8311541
1996T. Allen347135321*84.6321547
1997T. Allen210724472.420896
1998T. Allen148700270.017828
1999S. Davis290140517*100.4*231516
2000S. Davis33213181187.9331631
*Led NFL

Turner's Redskins weren't the rushing juggernaut that the Cowboys became under his watch, but he still managed to get productive seasons from his running backs.

In 1995, Terry Allen arrived from Minnesota and promptly ran for 1,309 yards and 10 touchdowns. The next season, he rushed for 1,353—a career high—and found the end zone an NFL-high 21 times. He was named to the Pro Bowl. 

Over those two seasons, Allen averaged over 340 rushing attempts and 31 catches. In each year, he broke 1,500 total yards from scrimmage. 

Allen eventually broke down, playing in just 20 total games over the next two seasons (1997-98). But in 1999, Turner once again unearthed a top rushing talent. 

Out was Allen and in was Stephen Davis, a little used backup who played sparingly during his first three seasons in Washington. But as the starter in 1999, Davis rushed for 1,405 yards and a league-high 17 touchdowns. He also finished first in the NFL in rushing yards per game (100.4), and like Allen, he topped 1,500 yards from scrimmage. 

The next season, or Turner's last in Washington, Davis carried 332 times for 1,318 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also caught 33 passes for 313 yards, both of which would remain his career highs.  

From 1999 to 2000, Davis averaged 93.9 rushing yards per game and scored 28 touchdowns, most in the NFL. He also caught nearly 30 passes a season. In both 1999 and 2000, he was named a Pro Bowler. 


San Diego Chargers (2001)

Turner returned to his coordinating roots in San Diego, where he took a rookie named LaDainian Tomlinson and turned him into a blossoming star. 

The 22-year-old Tomlinson was given 339 carries and 59 catches, touches he used to produce 10 touchdowns and 1,603 yards from scrimmage. Tomlinson would finish ninth in rushing yards (1,236) and yards from scrimmage, and his 59 catches would rank 11th among running backs. 

For his efforts, Tomlinson was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. 

The two would eventually re-unite down the road, but not before Turner made stops in Miami, Oakland and San Francisco. 


Miami Dolphins (2002-2003)

Turner's Top RB: Miami Dolphins 2002-2003
2002R. Williams383*1853*16115.8*472216
2003R. Williams392*1372985.8501723
*Led NFL

Maybe there was a little bit of luck in Turner transitioning from Tomlinson—who would go on to be one of the 2000s' most productive running backs—to Ricky Williams, a former first-rounder who was starting over with the Dolphins in 2002. But Turner certainly made the most of the situation. 

No running back in the NFL could match Williams' production while Turner was in Miami from 2002 to 2003. He carried a ridiculous 775 times—an average of almost 388 carries per season—for an NFL-high 3,225 yards and 25 touchdowns. 

In 2002, Williams led the NFL in attempts (383), rushing yards (1,853) and yards per game (115.8). He also caught 47 passes—bringing his total touches to 480 for the season—and finished with 2,216 yards from scrimmage. 

The next season, Turner again gave Williams the NFL's biggest work load, this time 392 carries (seventh-most in NFL history) and 50 catches. But those touches turned into just 1,383 yards and 1,723 yards from scrimmage, significant drop-offs from Williams' 2002 season. 

He would never again be the same, rushing for over 1,000 yards just once over his last five seasons. 

Over his two seasons with Turner, Williams averaged 100.8 rushing yards a game and nearly 50 catches per year. His 27.6 touches per game in 2003 were a career high. 


Oakland Raiders (2004-2005)

Turner's Top RB: Oakland Raiders, 2004-2005
2004A. Zereoue112425328.339709
2005L. Jordan272*1025*9*73.2*70*1588*
*Career high

After a 2004 season in which five running backs saw significant time for Turner, the Raiders finally found some footing in the running game via 27-year-old LaMont Jordan. 

Over 14 games in 2005, Jordan rushed for 1,025 yards and nine touchdowns, both of which were more than double his previous career highs. He averaged 19.4 carries and 73.2 yards per game. 

Jordan also caught 70 passes, which was 53 more than his next highest single-season output. He finished with 1,588 yards from scrimmage and 11 total touchdowns. 

The 2005 season would mark the only time in Jordan's career that he would crack 1,000 yards rushing, 500 yards receiving or 10 or more touchdowns. In fact, over his final four seasons—from 2006 to 2010—Jordan scored only nine times and caught 38 passes. 


San Francisco 49ers (2006)

Turner's Top RB: San Francisco 49ers, 2006
2006F. Gore312*1695*8105.9*61*2180*
*Career high

Frank Gore has put together one of the more consistent and underappreciated nine-year runs in the history of the running back position. But 2006—his second in the NFL and the only year he worked with Turner—remains the most productive of his career. 

That season, Gore ran 312 times for 1,695 yards and eight touchdowns. He set new career highs that still stand today in attempts, rushing yards, yards per game (105.9), catches (61), receiving yards (485) and yards from scrimmage (2,180). 

Overall, Gore cracked 100 yards nine times and had just five games with fewer than 20 touches. He was also selected to his first Pro Bowl. 


San Diego Chargers (2007-2012)

Turner's Top RB: San Diego Chargers, 2001; 2007-2012
2007L. Tomlinson3151474*15*92.1601949
2008L. Tomlinson29211101169.4521536
2009L. Tomlinson2237301252.120884
2010M. Tolbert1827351149.025951
2011R. Mathews2221091677.9501546
2012R. Mathews184707158.939959
*Led NFL

Turner's reunion with Tomlinson was a mixed bag. 

On one hand, Turner did get a league-high 1,474 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns out of Tomlinson in 2007, their first season back together. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry and 92.1 yards per game. He also caught 60 passes and finished with 18 total touchdowns and 1,949 yards from scrimmage. 

Over the next two seasons, Tomlinson would rush for 1,840 yards and 23 touchdowns, but his averages dropped to 3.6 yards per carry and 61.3 rushing yards per game. In 2009, he caught just 20 passes—a new career low. It would be Tomlinson's last year in San Diego. 

The soon-to-be Hall of Famer would finish his four-year career under Turner with 4,550 rushing yards, 52 total touchdowns, 191 catches and 5,972 yards from scrimmage. 

In 2010, Turner split carries with Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews, who combined to deliver 1,413 yards, 18 touchdowns and 47 catches. 

Mathews officially broke out the next season, rushing for 1,091 yards and six touchdowns on 222 carries. He also caught 50 passes. Overall, Mathews and Tolbert combined for 104 receptions out of the backfield in 2011. The two also ran for 14 touchdowns. 

The 2012 season brought more injury to Mathews, who started just nine games and rushed for 707 yards. The Chargers were forced to lean on Jackie Battle and Ronnie Brown in his absence, and the two mostly struggled, rushing for 531 yards and catching 64 passes. 

Turner also oversaw the development of Darren Sproles, who ran for 1,104 yards and caught 143 passes for 11 touchdowns while in San Diego from 2007 to 2010. Tolbert, another Turner project, ran for 20 touchdowns and caught 109 passes during his four years in San Diego.


Cleveland Browns (2013) 

Turner's Top RB: Cleveland Browns, 2013
2013W. McGahee138377*231.48397
*Career low for Turner's top RB

We'll give Turner a pass for 2013, a year in which the Browns traded away Trent Richardson after just two games. In his place, Turner was asked to get the most out of a fading Willis McGahee, 27-year-old Chris Ogbonnaya and undrafted free agent Edwin Baker. 

The three rushed for just 788 yards and four touchdowns as the Browns quickly became the highest-volume passing team in the NFL. Ogbonnaya caught a career-high 48 passes for 343 yards and two scores. 

Instead of beating his head against the wall with his running backs, Turner made All-Pros out of receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron. And he did it with Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer pulling the trigger at quarterback. 


What Does This Mean for Adrian Peterson?

Peterson certainly hasn't needed a respected offensive coordinator or dominant passing game to post some of the game's best numbers at the running back position. Twice Peterson has led the NFL in rushing, including 2012, when he averaged 131.5 yards per game and finished with a career-best 2,097. 

The introduction of Turner to Peterson's career should only cement the fact that the Vikings running back is heading for another big season in 2014. 

Turner's work with so many good backs speaks for itself. When he has a talent, he rides that talent in the form of carries and catches. A season in which Peterson breaks 1,800 yards from scrimmage and sets a new high in receptions is certainly feasible under Turner's play-calling. 

However, the one worry here could actually be in usage. Peterson will be entering his age-29 season in 2014, and he's now had three surgeries in as many offseasons. He may be universally recognized as a freak of medical science—see his recovery from ACL surgery in 2012—but there comes a point when every running back hits a wall. 

And if there's any faster way to drive an aging back into that wall, it's overuse. Turner was probably guilty of just that with Terry Allen, Ricky Williams and LaDainian Tomlinson. 

Still, the possibility of overusing Peterson will be significantly minimized if the Vikings can find a quarterback to throw the football. Turner should eventually open up the Vikings playbook, especially in the passing game. That reality alone should help take off some of the immense pressure put on Peterson every week, which usually came in the form of stacked defensive boxes. 

And the reward for what he could get out of Peterson is worth any of the risks.

Turner has shown a consistent ability to get the very best out of his running backs, whether they are all-world talents like Peterson and Emmitt Smith or lucky pickups like LaMont Jordan and Terry Allen. His work with Smith, Tomlinson and Williams is especially encouraging, given their elite talent and the results Turner eventually helped deliver. 

Peterson may be excited that Turner will help turn the Vikings passing game around, but he should be equally enthusiastic about what his new offensive coordinator can do for him on an individual level. 


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