To an NFL player, noise is constant. In the stadium, a combination of raucous fans and outdated jock jams pumping through enormous speakers hover over the field like an agitated hornets nest. At practice, coaches shout instructions and emit guttural growls at missed tackles or blown coverages. And out in the world, high-pitched screams or hushed half-whispers greet a player whenever he's spotted in a public venue.
That's why, when the season ends, Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson chooses quiet. During this year's break, Peterson wasn't in the weight room at the Cardinals facility with the stereo cranked to 11. Instead, he performed many of his workouts in a park near his home in Chandler, Ariz., working to improve his game, alone.
Dried grass crunched underneath Peterson's feet as he weaved in and out of a speed ladder placed on an incline. Two feet in, two feet out. No onlookers were there to bother him. In fact, people rarely recognize Peterson around Chandler—which is one reason why he likes it so much.
A small pond with a fountain in the center bubbled in the background. The setting was serene.
"I can come out here and be peaceful and get away from different athletes. I can work on my craft on my own. It's like my own laboratory," Peterson said.
Peterson's quest for calm has led to anything but quiet results. Just two years into his NFL career, he's already been named to the Pro Bowl twice, first as a punt returner, then as a cornerback.
He's electric with the ball in his hands, tying the record for most punt returns for a touchdown in a season (four) as a rookie and recording seven interceptions a year later. New Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, recognizing his skills, wants to give Peterson a more significant role in his team's offense this season.
Although no defensive back since Deion Sanders has become a threat on offense (and even Neon Deion nabbed only three touchdowns as a receiver during his career), if anyone can be an effective two-way player, it's Peterson. He has thrived at every level of the game, being named USA Today's High School Defensive Player of the Year in 2007, and nabbing SEC Player of the Year in 2010 as an LSU Tiger.
"I set my goals out very high and I expect to achieve them," Peterson said. "I don't just want to be a great cornerback. I want to be the best cornerback to ever play the game. I know that's a very broad statement and that a lot of guys have that attitude, but I'm going after it."
Peterson's work ethic stems from his father, his former high school football coach, who banned Patrick from playing his sophomore year because his grades weren't high enough. It devastated the young Peterson, yet it put his dreams of one day playing in the NFL into sharper focus. He dedicated himself to the sport from that day on.
"I didn't want to be one of those high school greats who did nothing after high school," Peterson said. "[Missing a year of football] is still something that's with me to this day. I don't want to miss this game again."
Talking to Peterson about the work he does at the park put the young corner's passion for the game on full display. He told us exactly why he performs each drill, and how it helps him get better. Describing the nuances of the Uphill Carioca and the benefits of the Ickey Shuffle, he sounded like the Cardinals' strength and conditioning coach.
Peterson isn't afraid to do things most of his peers in the league might not try. A few days before running those ladder drills, he was in a large room with soothing green walls and glowing hardwood floors, standing silently on a mat, and then morphing into Tree Pose and Reverse Warrior. Peterson believes yoga will lengthen his playing career by strengthening his small stabilizer muscles, which are just as important as the big muscles.
According to Peterson, yoga also gives him better balance on the field. And when we asked him what he needed to work on to be even better in 2013, he immediately said that his patience at the line of scrimmage has to improve.
Between his in-depth training knowledge and his dedication to yoga, Peterson might be called an "old soul"—especially since the third year pro is already showing signs of becoming a team leader at age 23. He helped convince the Cardinals to take a chance on his controversial former LSU teammate, Tryann Mathieu, in the NFL Draft, and he has mentored the Honey Badger ever since. Peterson has also been charged with helping newly signed cornerback Jerraud Powers and safety Yeremiah Bell get up to speed.
"I want to help take another player's game to the next level," Peterson said. "I want to be a guy that my teammates can depend on, someone that they can come to for help with anything."
The park remained quiet, the silence broken only by Peterson's rhythmic panting after another run up the speed ladder. He wiped the sweat from his brow. It was time to head home, back to the chaos and noise that is the life of a young NFL star. Perhaps that's fitting, because when Peterson returns to the football field this fall, his impact will be louder than ever.
Peterson's Uphill Speed Drills
"I love to start off each workout with ladders to make sure my footwork is always nice and swift," Peterson says. "Going uphill makes your muscles work harder than they would if you were just on a flat surface. You'll get more out of it." Here, Peterson describes how and why he performs each drill.
Figure-8 Speed Turn. "Defensive backs do a lot of running and a lot of backpedaling, to the point where our hips, quads and hamstrings tend to tighten up on us. This drill gets your muscles used to those different actions, so it can help with movement economy and conditioning as well."
HOW: Position the cones in a square. Run diagonally from the right rear cone to the front left cone, backpedal to the rear left cone, plant and quickly run around the cone, finishing with a sprint to the front right cone.
Two Feet in Each Hole. "Make sure you're going completely into and out of the ladder. Pretend that you're on hot coals. That's the only way to get the foot quickness you'll need. You'll know you have this drill down pat when you can do it full speed and keep your eyes up."
HOW: Starting with your left foot, rapidly tap both feet inside each rung of the ladder until you reach the top.
Uphill Carioca. "It's going to burn eventually, but that's the beauty of it. I am a press corner, and at the line of scrimmage you want to make sure your feet are in perfect position so you don't trip over yourself or take false steps. This drill helps with positioning, as well as reaction time and foot speed."
HOW: Starting left of the ladder, place your right foot in the first rung, then cross your left foot behind you, tapping it down on the other side. Alternate legs in this pattern all the way to the top.
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