Toby Gerhart (Pablo Martinez Monsivias/AP)
Running back Toby Gerhart’s carries on Sunday nearly equaled his season total to that point. A few days after playing a workhorse role for more than half a game, Gerhart was getting reacquainted with that post-pounding feeling.
When the Vikings moved up in the second round of April’s draft to select running back Toby Gerhart, the rationale was quite simple. Chester Taylor had meant a lot to the offense as the counterpunch running back to Peterson for the first three years of A.D.’s career.
When Taylor left for greener pastures (and paychecks) in Chicago, the Vikings acted fast to find his replacement – locking down Gerhart a month and change later. However, unlike Taylor, who, with the exception of the 2006 season, was never a featured back, Gerhart was a workhorse. He finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting his senior year at Stanford, finishing the year with 343 carries for 1,871 yards and 28 touchdowns – the kind of numbers a really big kid from a small town in Stixville USA gains, not a running back in the Pac 10.
Gerhart’s arrival to the Vikings was something a rude awakening. After averaging 26 carries a game as Cardinal senior, he had a total of 24 rushing attempts in 10 games as an NFL rookie. Gerhart said he never got frustrated, but it had been too long since he been able to get into a full-game rhythm. That wasn’t to say the spirit wasn’t willing.
“I’ve always believed I could play at this level, but my opportunities have been limited,” Gerhart said. “It was nice to be out there and perform well and help this team win.”
He said his coming-out party in the NFL, which included 22 carries and his first career touchdown – the ball is still under safe keeping with the equipment staff – didn’t come off as planned, but he knew what the Vikings intended to achieve offensively, whether it was Peterson lining up behind Brett Favre or Gerhart.
“It was in the game plan to run the ball. I had some big shoes to fill and I did what I could do,” Gerhart said. “I don’t know the current status (of Peterson). You’d have to check with the training staff about that. But if I’m called upon to carry the ball again 20-plus times, whatever it may be, I’m looking forward to that.”
A week earlier, Gerhart was asked how he has handled his limited role and he said that he was glad his minor role was expanding. Now he has that old Stanford feeling again. Like many running backs, Gerhart said his strength as a runner isn’t necessarily in his first five or 10 carries, but on the next five or 10.
“I think for any running back, the more touches you get, you get a sweat going, you kind of get a feel for the game and a feel for how the defense is playing,” Gerhart said. “I think I got a little rhythm as the game went on.”
Gerhart hasn’t come close to hitting the fabled “rookie wall” due to a lack of activity. For him, the rookie wall has been more mental than physical, but he said it was good to get that sore feeling back after carrying a heavy work load on Sunday. He said it was a feeling he had become accustomed to, including a Monday to forget.
“I definitely feel fresh, but I’m feeling sore today after carrying the ball 22 times after not doing that for almost a year, but I definitely feel fresh,” said Gerhart, who added that, when he woke up Monday, “I felt like I did back in college when I was carrying 30 times a game. Everything was sore and I basically fell out of bed. But I sat in the cold tub the last two days and I feel better today.”
Gerhart believes he made big progress in proving himself to the coaching staff, his teammates and the front office that, if needed, he can more than hold his own shouldering the load of the running game. If Adrian Peterson is able to return Sunday, Gerhart will likely return to his role as a part-time reserve. It’s likely that, even if Peterson plays, the workload will be more evenly split than it was prior to his ankle injury against the Redskins. If A.D. can’t go all day, Gerhart is ready to replicate his performance from last Sunday. It’s all dependant on the injured wheel of Peterson, and Gerhart is getting ready for the Bills for any role he will be asked to play.
“If Adrian can go, I’ll end up back to the role I had before,” Gerhart said. “I know that. My job is to play a role and be ready when I get called on. If that’s for four or five carries or 20-plus, I’m ready for whatever I’m asked to do.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.