TAMPA — His eyes opened wider, his voice rose louder and his praise grew stronger as Chris Hovan began talking about trying to stop the NFL's leading rusher, Adrian Peterson.
"Oh, man, the kid's a stud, man," Hovan began. "You talk about the top two backs in the league and I'll put him at No. 1 right now. His explosion, running ability, the way he breaks tackles. The kid is special, man."
Hovan began rocking slowly as the conversation turned to the challenge facing the Bucs defense, which had not allowed a 100-yard rusher or rushing touchdown until its last game at Kansas City.
"We always want to be the best at what we do," the defensive tackle said. "But we know to be the best, you've got to take down the best, and the best is coming here Sunday."
As Hovan spoke of the Bucs' inspiration, perspiration began to bead on his forehead.
"We're very excited," he said. "It's only Wednesday. We have to contain ourselves a little bit. No pads today … but we'll be all right. We're going to make it through this week. Don't get me too anxious. I'm starting to sweat."
That's the effect Peterson has on the entire league.
In 23 NFL games, the Vikings running back has rushed for 2,356 yards, 102 per game. That's 14 more than Walter Payton averaged for his career.
The 2007 offensive rookie of the year has racked up four straight 100-yard rushing performances, including a 192-yard effort Sunday in a 28-27 win over the Packers.
But Peterson's skill is surpassed by his will to win. Trailing 24-21 with nine minutes left, the Vikings had fourth and 1 at their 41. Coach Brad Childress planned to punt, but during a replay review, he was coaxed into going for it by Peterson, who was stuffed and lost a fumble.
By the time the Vikings got the ball back with six minutes left, the Packers led 27-21. But on the sixth play — five of them runs by Peterson — the former Oklahoma star scored on a 29-yard run, beating safety Atari Bigby to the pylon.
"For me, it was more emotional because I had just fumbled to put us in a bad situation that could've cost us the game, and then in the last drive when we needed it, turned it around and got into the end zone," Peterson, 23, said.
After the game, Peterson said, "Guys were hitting me saying, 'Man, good game, we won.' And that's the most important thing. But I left yards on the field. And I get looks like, 'Man, you ran for 192 yards, what are you talking about? Why are you complaining?' Those are the expectations I have for myself."
Maybe, instead of asking how the Bucs are going to stop Peterson, the question should be how is Peterson going to gain any yards against the Bucs?
Tampa Bay has allowed just 99.3 yards per game on the ground. More impressive, opponents have just more than 3.8 yards per carry.
"We're going to show up and play now," coach Jon Gruden said. "We've seen Michael Turner, we've seen Marion Barber. It's not like we haven't seen some great backs. Here's another one coming in here."
Peterson already has drawn comparisons to Payton, Eric Dickerson and Jim Brown. What makes him rare is his size (6 feet 1, 217) and speed (better than 4.4 for 40 yards).
"He's able to get going downhill and then on a dime, without changing speed, cut the opposite direction," linebacker Barrett Ruud said. "What he really does is test your leverage. Say you're turning back a block and this is your free hand, he'll just run at your free hand and make you make a tackle, which is something most backs don't try to do."
Said Gruden, "He's as physical a man as I've seen play the position."
Peterson, who leads the league with 1,015 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, says he's not wearing down as the season wears on: "I feel like I'm getting stronger. I'm actually getting bigger. Those are things I'm noticing about myself, I'm putting on a little more weight as I go.
"That can be scary. I almost scare myself. I do see myself getting stronger and faster and my game is picking up, so hey, it's a good thing for us."
Now that's something to sweat about.