The most skilled player on the team is being underutilized. The quickest fix for a team falling fast would be to use that quick first-round pick more.

By Jim Souhan, Star Tribune
Last update: September 30, 2007 – 10:03 PM

Brad Childress came to Minnesota as an offensive guru. Suddenly, he's a defensive genius. Who other than The Chiller could put Adrian Peterson in a deep freeze?

NFL defenses have failed. In Peterson's first four games, he's rushed 76 times for 383 yards, a 5.0-yard average. Think what he could do if he touched the ball more than Cullen Loeffler.

Sunday, in the Vikings' 23-16 loss to the Packers at the Metrodome, Peterson rushed 12 times for 112 yards, including a 55-yard, did-you-see-that second-quarter burst that set up a field goal.

That line again: 12 carries, 112 yards. The latter number credits the Vikings for stealing a star with the seventh pick in the draft. The former -- 12 carries in a gotta-win game -- discredits the coaches for not knowing a good blur when they see one.

It was evident by early August that Peterson would be the Vikings' best skill-position player this season. He's proved to be their best player, period, yet the Vikings are using him more like a middle reliever than an ace.

They won't even use him as a closer. Last week, with the Vikings needing a field goal to tie Kansas City, they left Peterson on the sideline for their last drive, and were thwarted. Sunday, with the Vikings needing a touchdown to tie Green Bay, they left Peterson on the sideline for the last drive and -- stop me if you've heard this one -- were thwarted.

Peterson is their leading rusher by a margin of 312 yards, and their second-leading receiver with 166 yards. He has two of the team's four offensive touchdowns. Yet the Vikings' method of getting him the ball more is having him return kickoffs.

"We're trying to give them plays that they look at well, and obviously Adrian was contributing on kickoff returns," Childress said. "That's what I love about this football team -- it's an unselfish football team."

Here's what the Vikings need: More selfishness, as long as it's Peterson demanding the ball.

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Instead of acknowledging Peterson as the budding star he is, and Chester Taylor as a quality backup, Childress named Taylor his starter for Sunday's game. Even more alarming than that announcement was the realization that Childress was telling the truth.

Peterson had four more rushes than Taylor, and Taylor did break a 37-yard run, but there's no comparison here. Take out Peterson's 55-yard run, and he still moved the pile, rushing 11 times for 55 yards. Take out Taylor's big run, and he rushed seven times for three yards.

Yet, on Sunday, Peterson participated on only 38 percent of the Vikings' plays from scrimmage. This is like saving Johan Santana for the seventh inning, like holding Marian Gaborik out until the third period.

The Vikings are a mess, from stadium pursuit to clock management. The one way they can immediately improve without hiring or firing anyone or straining a frontal lobe is to put their best player on the field, where he makes big plays when he touches the ball and attracts more attention than a streaker when he doesn't.

The kid has a chance to be great. He's got speed, power, toughness, desire and manners.

"I'm going to go in when they call on me," he said when some jerk asked him if he wants to play more. "I'm going to go out there and make the best of the opportunity. It's good to have Chester back, to have that 1-2 punch, to keep both of us fresh."

See Adrian Peterson & The Minnesota Vikings Live! Click here for Tickets

I would prefer that Peterson feel really tired at the end of the game, from all those end zone celebrations.

But that's not The Plan, which apparently entails winning four games this season in the hopes that another player of Peterson's quality can be obtained in the draft, and enlisted to return punts.