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 MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -Adrian Peterson and Shawne Merriman met this summer in California while Minnesota's rookie running back was on the West Coast for an endorsement deal.
San Diego's standout linebacker said he got along well with Peterson, and he was comfortable enough to good-naturedly issue a warning about their regular-season meeting.
``I said I was going to try to knock his head off,'' Merriman said this week.
The NFL's leading rusher was playfully asked if he wanted to return the favor by threatening to lower one of his powerful shoulders into Merriman's chest.
``I'm pretty sure I might have to try to do that,'' Peterson said. ``With the intensity that he plays with, I'm definitely going to have to be ready and on my toes.''
Two of the league's most athletically gifted and electrifying players will face off Sunday when the Chargers (4-3) visit the Vikings (2-5). Their nicknames, respectively, are ``Lights Out'' and ``All Day.''
A collision with the 6-foot-4, 270-pound Merriman on one of those runs around the corner by the 6-1, 220-pound Peterson could be a sight in itself.
``I knew he was going to be ... one of the best running backs in the league,'' Merriman said. ``I wouldn't necessarily call him the best yet, because only time will tell that.''
Merriman can find, arguably, the best at that position in his own locker room. LaDainian Tomlinson, after a slow start, is back on track with six touchdowns and 828 yards from scrimmage that rank fourth in the NFL. Peterson is second with 927 yards.
Peterson has met Tomlinson, too. They had a brief encounter at a Nike-sponsored Super Bowl party in Miami last February.
``He was real humble. Not only is he a good player on the field, but from what I got, a good person off the field also,'' said Peterson, who has received his share of praise for the same.
The Vikings barely avoided a local television blackout this week, but it's not because of Peterson that interest and sales are lagging. He's been the only obvious reason to watch while the injuries and ineffectiveness at quarterback and the lack of impact receivers drag the offense down.
On the other side of the ball, the Vikings are still stout against the run with the Williams wall - Kevin and Pat - at the tackle spots. Linebackers E.J. Henderson and Ben Leber, formerly of the Chargers, are having solid seasons, too.
Pass defense is again a problem, though, and it's not only the coverage. The Vikings have 18 sacks, a better per-game rate than last year, but they're not generating enough of a consistent rush. A player like Merriman sure would help.
``I definitely thought I was going there,'' said Merriman, who went to Maryland, as did ex-Minnesota coach Mike Tice, and was available with the No. 7 pick in 2005 when the Vikings chose wide receiver Troy Williamson instead.
Tice pushed for Merriman, but following the Randy Moss trade the need for a receiver won out. Williamson has been a bust, with three touchdowns and several drops in three seasons. Merriman, who was chosen at No. 12, has 33 1/2 sacks in 35 career games, including the playoffs, and already has been an All-Pro.
``I ended up in a good spot,'' he said, later adding: ``They went with what they needed, and I hope they're happy with their choice.''
The Chargers lost three straight games to close September, but they won all three times in October to enter what recently has been their big month. The Chargers have a 10-game winning streak in November; their last loss in the year's second-to-last month was on Nov. 30, 2003. Playoff appearances following the 2004 and 2006 seasons were fueled by that November success.
Peterson was held to 70 yards on 20 carries last Sunday by a Philadelphia defense constantly focused on stopping the run, with eight or nine players near the line of scrimmage. Without a capable passing game, he'll surely see that the rest of the year, but he wasn't worried.
``Those guys stacked the box last week, but still when I watched the film there were some plays that I left on the field that could have been home runs,'' Peterson said. ``So I'm just going to go out and focus and do my job and take things slow and let the game come to me.''
Part of that is knowing when and how fast to hit the hole, an acquired skill Peterson said he has improved by watching Tomlinson on TV.
``Just the vision that he has, and is able to make cuts on a dime,'' Peterson said.
He certainly picked a good model.
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