Minnesota Vikings offensive linemen Phil Loadholt and Charlie Johnson watched film in awe week after week.
Reviewing the previous game, they constantly were reminded if they gave Adrian Peterson any kind of hole it could lead to a game-breaking play.
Coming off a torn ACL, Peterson recorded one of the greatest seasons by a running back in NFL history, rushing for 2,097 yards, nine shy of Eric Dickerson's record.
Loadholt, a second-round pick out of Oklahoma in 2009, and Johnson, a sixth-round pick seven years ago out of Oklahoma State, helped lead the way. The Bedlam products once again will try to provide holes for Peterson Saturday when the Vikings play at Green Bay in a wild card game.
“It's so fun to watch him,” Johnson said in a phone interview with The Oklahoman. “It's always a joy when you make a block and he's taking it all the way. With a guy like Adrian, he just needs a little crease. Just give him a little space and he can make a lot of things happen.”
Peterson rushed for 210 yards a month ago in Minnesota's 23-14 loss at Green Bay.
In last week's 37-34 playoff clinching win over the Packers, Peterson ran for 199 yards, including a bruising 27-yard run that set up the game-winning field goal.
Green Bay's game plan will center around slowing down Peterson. But that was the game plan last week, when the Packers stacked the box with eight defenders.
“After that first game we didn't know if we could do some of the same things,” Johnson said. “But with Adrian, anything is possible. The good thing about playing someone on a short turnaround is you've pretty much seen everything they can do.”
What you usually don't see is a running back win a second rushing title and challenge the single-season rushing record after suffering a torn ACL. Peterson was injured on Christmas Eve 2011.
“I'll never forget after he hurt his knee last year against Washington, he said he'd be back for the start of the year,” Johnson said. “If you saw that look in his eyes you believed him. If Adrian says he's going to do something, you never doubt him.
“He's not like anybody else. He works harder than anyone I've ever played with. It's been so fun to watch him play like this after everything he dealt with.”
Less than nine months after having reconstructive surgery on his left knee, Peterson rushed for more than 150 yards seven times.
“We all thought he would come back, but who could have thought he would come back this good, that quick?” Loadholt said. “It's something special to be a part of. It's been a lot of fun.”
In six seasons, Peterson has rushed for 8,849 yards. But this season, he established himself as one of the top backs in league history, becoming only the seventh back to reach 2,000 yards in a season.
“You think about all the great backs that have come through the league and the offensive lines that blocked for them,” Loadholt said. “He really wanted the record. He came up a little short. But like he said, it's something to work towards in the years to come.”
It's uncertain whether Loadholt, a 6-foot-8, 330-pound left tackle, will be blocking for Peterson next season. An instant starter as a rookie, Loadholt has started 63 games but will be a free agent. Some NFL analysts said this was his best season.
“It's nice when people say those type of things,” Loadholt said. “I feel I had a good season. But I'm not really into ranking my years. There are a lot of different factors every year. I'm just trying to do my part here and help this team win. All that other stuff will take care of itself.”
A seven-year veteran, Johnson switched from tight end to guard at OSU. He's played in 105 NFL games, including 86 starts. The Vikings left guard, Johnson played in two Super Bowls during his five seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.
“I've been very blessed,” Johnson said. “I wasn't even sure if I was going to be drafted. Back in 2006, I would have never dreamt of this. I've been fortunate to be on good teams. A lot of guys don't get to play in one Super Bowl. I've played in two and won one. I'd love for this year to be number three.”
Johnson has played with both Peyton Manning and Peterson. If he had a vote who would he choose for MVP?
“I'm definitely biased,” Johnson said. “I really respect Peyton, but what Adrian has done has been unbelievable. For him to put up those type of numbers and put the team on his back at times, it was a special, special season. I feel blessed just to be part of it.”