BATON ROUGE, La. — Patrick Peterson is taller than Brandon James. He’s thicker than DeSean Jackson.
But once the chase scene is under way, you probably won’t be able to tell the difference Saturday afternoon at Tiger Stadium.
Florida’s James tormented Tennessee for four years on kickoff and punt returns. Cal’s Jackson broke open the 2007 season opener with a punt return for a touchdown.
Now, here comes Peterson, a bigger, faster version of the two. No wonder, LSU is cranking up its Heisman Trophy campaign this week for the junior cornerback, who leads the SEC with a 28.1-yard average per punt return.
You know what you call a 28-yard punt return by a player of Peterson’s caliber against the Vols? Good coverage.
UT already has given up one punt return for a touchdown this season. And Peterson has returned punts for touchdowns against North Carolina and West Virginia.
So how do the Vols postpone No. 3 for another Saturday?
LSU placekicker Josh Jasper, who is also an accomplished pooch punter, doesn’t hesitate when asked for advice.
“I wouldn’t kick it to him,” Jasper said. “I’d kick it out of bounds. … I wouldn’t mess with that.”
UT has taken a more macho approach in the past, refusing to back away from a challenge.
“That’s what teams used to do with (former LSU kick returner Trindon Holliday),” Jasper said. “They’d say, ‘We’re not going to be intimidated.’
“Then, he would bust loose on them, and you’d see them change.”
Wide receiver Russell Shepard can appreciate opponents’ unwillingness to back down.
“It’s hard with a team to tell them, ‘This dude is too good,’ ” he said.
This dude is also versatile. He’s third in the SEC with a 31.7-yard kick return average, and his two spectacular interceptions in the first four games suggest he might have the best hands on his team.
“He could play any skill position in college football,” Shepard said.
Peterson’s father played cornerback in high school and would have played in college as well if doctors hadn’t detected a heart murmur, Peterson said. As far back as youth football, the former cornerback began preparing his son for the same position while hoping he wouldn’t outgrow it.
At 6-foot-1 215 pounds, Peterson could now pass for a college linebacker.
“My friends all told me in high school that they would move me to safety (in college),” said Peterson, who was a five-star recruit out of Pompano Beach, Fla. “But I wanted to play corner, to show my cover skills.”
Not only does he look big for a corner, he looks older than your average college student, even though he just turned 20. The combination had something to do with his belated name change.
Although Peterson’s father, also named Patrick, was always involved in his life, his father and mother didn’t marry until he was in the eighth grade. Until then, he went by his mother’s maiden name, Johnson.
Because of his size and looks, people already were questioning his date of birth. So Patrick Johnson didn’t become Patrick Peterson until later.
“My dad just said wait till I get to college, so it won’t be no big deal,” Peterson said.
He changed names, but not positions. Three years later, he’s being projected as a high first-round draft pick.
As you might have noticed, he’s comfortable with the hype. He struck a Heisman pose after his touchdown against West Virginia, which resulted in a celebration penalty.
“I will never cost my team 15 yards again,” he said.
But he’s apt to be tempted, probably as early as Saturday against the Vols.
Told of UT’s unimposing track record against celebrity kick returners, Peterson didn’t make any predictions.
“I’ve got 10 great guys in front of me,” he said. “We’ll see what happens Saturday.”
Then he smiled.
John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or email@example.com.