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A PERIODIC LOOK AT SOME OF THE MOST INTRIGUING RISING STARS
There are no windows in the garage at Patrick Peterson's home in Chandler, Ariz., just black painted walls to help keep in the cool. On top of a car lift rests a gutted 1991 Monte Carlo eight feet in the air, seatless, engineless and rusted over. It's Peterson's reclamation project, a hobby that began when he was a kid in Pompano Beach, Fla., admiring his father's '79 Oldsmobile Cutlass and then really took off after he signed his first NFL contract two years ago. Working on cars now serves as an escape on Tuesdays during the season. Someday soon the Monte Carlo will be a racing machine.
For Peterson the Cardinals are a lot like his prized Monte Carlo, in need of some serious restoration and repair. An All-Pro kick returner as a rookie and a two-time Pro Bowler (as a returner in '11 and as a cornerback in '12), Peterson is being asked to help turbocharge almost every facet of Arizona's game. He'll return punts, shadow the opposition's best wide receiver and get increased reps as a pass catcher out of the slot. "After you see the athlete he is," first-year coach Bruce Arians said, "it's like the guy could be one of the top five receivers in the league."
New general manager Steve Keim doesn't stop there, noting that Peterson has stood flat-footed at the team's training facility in Tempe and thrown a football 70 yards. "From an ability standpoint I've never seen anything like him," Keim says. "He's the closest thing in the league to a Bo Jackson, a Deion Sanders."
It's true that Peterson, 23, is something of a natural. Two years ago he started playing golf and now scores in the 70s. (He became so enamored with the game that he installed a putting green in his backyard and a fairway simulator in his house.) Yet the high praise and lofty expectations speak as much to his makeup as to his ability. Meeting Peterson is to sample a refreshing cocktail that mixes the bravado of a playmaker with the humility of a coach's son. In one breath he waxes on the importance of the defensive line. In the next he claims he's the best cornerback in football and thinks he can win the MVP award—not the one they give to defensive players, but the MVP, the one Vikings running back Adrian Peterson won in 2012.
"Now that Coach Arians is giving me the opportunity to play both offense and special teams," he says, "I'll have the best opportunity to capture that dream of mine."
Peterson's MVP dreams began during his sophomore year at LSU when he met assistant Grady Brown. Now the secondary coach at South Carolina, Brown remembers Peterson's explosive talent but thought he lacked a certain edge. As a freshman cornerback Peterson had 41 tackles and even picked off Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson in a 27--21 overtime loss to the top-ranked Crimson Tide. But in Brown's eyes Peterson was far from a finished product, on or off the field. He had "LeBron James--and Kobe Bryant--type talent," Brown says, but he sometimes took plays off in practice. His classroom effort and punctuality fluctuated as well.
"He was blessed with tremendous talent, very respectful, but may not have realized how good he could be, in all things," Brown said. "I relayed that to him. I tried to put pressure on him to dominate every aspect of his college day."
Soon after his heart-to-heart with Brown, Peterson's attitude improved. He showed greater consistency, refusing to allow an opposing wide receiver to catch a single ball in one-on-one drills. His grades climbed, with Brown checking on his attendance until there was no need to.