EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- In the debate over who's the best running back in the NFL, Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress agrees with Jim Brown, not LaDainian Tomlinson.
When asked about it at practice Wednesday, an unusually emphatic Childress said he has seen Peterson improve "by leaps and bounds" in all phases of the game since he entered the league in 2007.
"LaDainian is a hell of a back and he's entitled to his opinion," Childress said. "I'm going to tell you, my guy is the best football player in the National Football League and he's the best running back in the National Football League, and I believe that."
Peterson is the reigning NFL rushing champion and also holds the single-game record for rushing yards (296) -- set against Tomlinson's Chargers at the Metrodome in 2007. Peterson has rushed for 3,101 yards in his first two seasons, leading many to call him the best running back in the game.
For years, Tomlinson has worn that crown.
"Jim Brown was telling Peterson he's the best runner he'd seen in a long time," Tomlinson told The Times. "I was sitting there reading it thinking, 'Wow.'
"The difference with me is you can put me out on that field and there will be nothing I can't do. I won't have to come off the field. Adrian has to come off sometimes on third down. Running routes, he's still not there yet. Great downhill runner, powerful, fast, all that stuff. ... But anything on that field you want me to do -- throw it, block -- I can do it. That's what I pride myself on is not having any weaknesses. And that's what makes me the best back."
Tomlinson rushed for 1,815 yards and scored 31 touchdowns in 2006, but he has been slowed slightly by injuries the last two seasons. He gained a career-low 1,110 rushing yards last season, but he still managed to catch 52 passes.
Tomlinson's accomplishments in the passing game certainly set him apart. He caught 100 passes in 2003 and has never finished with fewer than 51 receptions in a season.
Peterson has 40 catches in his first two seasons combined. He knows he has to be better in that area and has worked diligently to be a more reliable receiver and blocker.
"I just think he keeps getting better and better and better and better," Childress said. "I think he's come leaps and bounds from the first day in pass protection."
When it comes to running, though, Peterson might have the edge right now as he enters his prime. He rushed for 1,760 yards last season and took the first handoff of Monday night's preseason game against the Houston Texans for 75-yard touchdown run.
Tomlinson turned 30 in June, an ominous benchmark that usually signifies the beginning of the downside of running backs' careers.
Both players are from Texas, and Peterson simply shrugged off Tomlinson's criticism.
"It really doesn't matter," Peterson said. "But it's Jim Brown, so I can see why it would definitely touch a nerve.
"The only thing I try to do is try to be the best, most complete player that I can be. And that means during the offseason if there's things that I can improve on, that make my game better, that will help the team, then those are things that I do. So that's what I'm going to continue to focus on and continue to do, and I'll let everyone else voice their opinion."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press