LSU CB Peterson relishing role as returner
Now that Patrick Peterson is getting his shot to return kicks
and punts for LSU, he’s scoring touchdowns in his sleep.
Recently, Peterson said, he woke from a dream in which he’d
brought back ”two kick returns and a punt return against North
Carolina in the Georgia Dome – all the way.”
That would have been an impossible dream last year, when
Peterson focused primarily on his role as the top cornerback on the
team, covering opponents’ best receivers one-on-one.
This year, coach Les Miles figured Peterson needed the ball
more, so he’ll debut in his newly added role when the Tigers and
North Carolina open their seasons against one other in Atlanta on
”I can’t wait,” Peterson said. ”I just told my guys, as long
as they (block) their man, do their responsibility, we’ll have fun
out there. I promised them that. I’m not going to break my
promises. I just can’t wait for the real deal to happen so I can
get that kickoff under the lights and see how we’re going to
Peterson will now be more exposed to high-speed, head-on
collisions during his returns, elevating his risk of injury.
Last year at Alabama, LSU learned how painful it could be to
lose Peterson, even briefly, from the defensive backfield. When
Peterson went to the sideline with leg cramps, receiver Julio Jones
scored a game-breaking 73-yard touchdown in the Crimson Tide’s
”You have a great player and you want to give him the
opportunity to have a great football play,” Miles said of his
decision to put Peterson on returns. ”To say getting an
interception is more important than returning a punt for a
touchdown, I don’t know which great play potentially you want to
Peterson has already established his reputation as one of the
top pass defenders in college football. Many quarterbacks avoided
throwing his way last season, and when they did, they didn’t have
much success. Peterson had 13 pass breakups and two interceptions,
returning one for a touchdown. He also had what replays appeared to
show was another interception at Alabama, but officials
controversially ruled Peterson out of bounds.
”He’s obviously one of the premier cornerbacks in the entire
country and obviously a gifted athlete that’s got a lot of speed,”
North Carolina coach Butch Davis said. ”He’s got that shut-down
corner mentality that he challenges everybody and he loves to go
against the other team’s best receiver. I think the other aspect
that makes him a little bit unique over a lot of corners that you
see is his size.”
Peterson, a junior who turned 20 in July, said he has put on 10
pounds this year and weighs close to 220.
”But I feel great. I’m faster than last year,” he said, noting
that he recently ran his fastest ever 40-yard dashes, one timed at
4.37 seconds electronically and one at 4.2 seconds with a handheld
Davis said giving Peterson his chance as a return man ”is
probably a wise and smart move.”
As a kid in south Florida, Peterson revered former Florida State
and NFL star Deion Sanders. Although Peterson was too young to
remember seeing much of Sanders’ career, he scoured the Internet
for Sanders’ highlights, many of them touchdowns on interception or
punt returns, ending with a distinctive end zone dance.
”He had so much fun, coming up with his own celebration,” said
Peterson, who last year memorably rotated his arm like a windmill
as he led the way down field on Chad Jones’ punt return for a score
at Mississippi State.
”I guess that could be my own celebration with the windmill,”
Peterson said. ”Going out there and having fun is the whole key to
Miles, a former Cowboys assistant while Sanders played
cornerback in Dallas, brought up his memories of Sanders’ talent
with the ball while explaining his decision to add kick and punt
returns to Peterson’s plate.
”When Deion lined up back there for punts, he returned some for
touchdowns, so we’re trying as best we can to allow Patrick that
opportunity,” Miles said.
Peterson had one special teams touchdown last year, coming when
he scooped up a blocked field goal at Ole Miss and returned it 53
He is a good bet to enter the NFL draft next spring, although he
said he would carefully consider his decision with family, and
factor in the chances of an NFL lockout in 2011, before deciding
whether to leave LSU.
In the meantime, he’s not worried about taking an increased
pounding on special teams. If he does as well as he hopes, his
opportunities to touch the ball may decrease as the season wears on
”If teams don’t start kicking it away from me by the sixth
game, I haven’t done my job,” Peterson said. ”So that’s my main
goal, to do my job early in the season.”
His first chance is only days way.