EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) - In the debate over who is the best running back in the NFL, Vikings coach Brad Childress is agreeing with Jim Brown, not LaDainian Tomlinson.
Childress came to Adrian Peterson's defense Wednesday after Tomlinson took a few shots at Peterson in a recent Los Angeles Times story.
When asked about it at practice Wednesday, an unusually emphatic Childress said he's 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 yards rushing (296) - set against Tomlinson's Chargers at the Metrodome in 2007. He 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."
LT rushed for 1,815 yards and scored 31 touchdowns in 2006, but has been slowed slightly by injuries the last two seasons. He gained a career-low 1,110 yards rushing last season, but 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 caught fewer than 51 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 the preseason game against Houston on Monday night for a 75-yard touchdown.
Tomlinson turned 30 in June, an ominous benchmark for running backs that usually signifies the beginning of the downside of their careers.
Both 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 The Associated Press.