With Adrian Peterson down and likely out Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, second-year running back Toby Gerhart is the proverbial "next man up." Gerhart said Monday that he isn't thrilled with how he got his opportunity, but is happy that it has come.
"I'm more excited," Gerhart said. "It's an opportunity at Adrian's expense, which is something you don't really want. We're all hoping he gets better quick, but at the same time I'm excited. It's a chance for me to show what I can do, be featured and have fun with it."
Gerhart said he had to make a transition coming to Vikings after being a workhorse at Stanford and a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. Through the first 10 games, Gerhart had just 24 rushing attempts – seven of those coming after Peterson went down Sunday. When you're used to being the focal point of the offense, being a role player can be difficult, but Gerhart said he knew what he was in for coming to a team with a player at his position building a Hall of Fame résumé.
"It's tough, it's different," Gerhart said. "Coming from Stanford where I carried the ball 20-plus times a game to one, maybe two a game. It's difficult, but at the same time that was the kind of the role I'm in. I knew with Adrian, the best of the league, one of the best in the game if not the best in the game, backing him up my opportunities were going to be limited and had to make the most of them. It's been tough but that's kind of the role I was in."
Gerhart said that his mindset over the last two seasons has been to prepare for a heavy workload even though he knows that his opportunities will be limited. With injuries being such a prevalent reality in the NFL, he said he knows that there will come a time when his number will get called and he has to be ready to flip the switch and be ready when that chance comes.
"Week to week I try to prepare as the starter," Gerhart said. "Me and Adrian need to be interchangeable in terms of the offense in case he does go down. I prepare to run every play even if it's specifically designed for him, I've got to be able to do that. I get my reps throughout the week each and every week whether he's up or down, each and every play. It's just got to be ready and I've felt like I've been ready."
Gerhart said that, in an ideal world, he would get more opportunities to show what he can do, but the reality is that the Vikings have the premier running back in the NFL and he has to accept being a member of the supporting cast, adding that he is ready for the spotlight to shine his way if, as expected, Peterson is down for a week or two.
"It's tough, but at the same time, when I get those opportunities I've got to make the most of it," Gerhart said. "Every time you're on the field, you're representing of course the team, the city, your family and that's your résumé. Maybe if I get two carries in a game I need to make those two carries count for future playing time with the Vikings down the road or wherever it may be, that's my résumé. Making the most and trying to help the team win when I'm in there."
Of course, Gerhart has plenty of experience with starting and carrying the workload from his days at Stanford. He won the Doak Walker Award in 2009 after rushing 343 times for 1,871 yards and 28 touchdowns and catching 11 passes for 157 yards. He started 10 of 12 games in 2008, and rushed 210 times for 1,136 yards and 15 touchdowns while catching 13 passes for 114 yards.
"It sucks to lose (Peterson), but Toby is a good player," defensive end Jared Allen said. "I think people forget that he was runner-up for the Heisman. Hopefully we can see some of that magic and he'll carry the load just fine and we'll get (Peterson) back as soon as you can."
Gerhart has been waiting patiently to get his chance, realizing that it might never come. With the chance now presenting itself, all Gerhart can do is make the most of it and try to gain the confidence of his coaching staff.
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.