Toby Gerhart (Brace Hemmelgarn/US Presswire)
Toby Gerhart will settle back into the starting role at running back for the season finale and at least through the offseason. He’s better equipped to handle the increased workload this year, he says.
Toby Gerhart’s entrance to the NFL was a bittersweet experience. A runner-up for the Heisman Trophy his senior year at Stanford, Gerhart understandably hoped to get drafted to a team that didn’t already have Adrian Peterson established as a 20-carry-per-game featured back.
It wasn’t an ideal landing spot for a player looking to make an impression. Now, with Peterson down with a torn ACL and MCL and surgery scheduled with renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews Friday, until Peterson returns – the timetable on that varies widely depending on who you ask – Gerhart is the primary run option for the Vikings.
Gerhart has spent his entire pro career being viewed as the backup to Peterson. That has changed markedly. While hopes are that Peterson will be ready to go, Gerhart will go through every drill, OTA and minicamp this year as the bell cow of the Vikings’ run game – a role in which he thrived at Stanford.
Now that he is the first option in the Vikings backfield, Gerhart said he doesn’t think his preparation level will change all that much – with the exception of the number of reps he gets with the first-team offense.
“I don’t think it will be that much different,” Gerhart said. “As a rookie with Adrian already established as the guy, no job is ever secure. Even though I was the quote-unquote No. 2 back coming into training camp, I needed to keep that spot. For me, this is the first offseason I’m going to have to be here full time. I didn’t get a chance to do OTA’s or anything coming out (of college) because there was school and this year with the lockout, I haven’t had a full offseason with the strength staff, the coaches, the OTAs and things like that. It will be nice to prepare that way this year, be around the guys and get better for next year.”
The timing of Peterson’s injury came when Gerhart was much better equipped to handle the workload. Had Gerhart been asked to shoulder the load as a rookie, he isn’t convinced he would have been prepared for the role of featured back. This time around, he has the mental and physical preparedness to handle an increased workload.
“I think it’s much improved from my rookie year, that’s for sure,” Gerhart said. “I’m much more comfortable, much more confident. I’ve really been able to get into the flow of some of these games and I’m trying to make the most of those opportunities. Coming into this year, I wanted to have an impact on games when I got my chances. I knew they would be limited with Adrian being the guy. But I knew I could help this team and I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job when I’ve been asked to step in and be the primary guy.”
When Peterson comes back, Gerhart, like Joe Webb, will return to subordinate duty. But, considering that nobody knows when that will be, Gerhart is going to take advantage of his opportunity.
“Adrian is a phenomenal back and has rare talent,” Gerhart said. “It’s great to be on the same team with him. But, with him down, I have to make sure we don’t have a drop-off, whether it’s in games or during the offseason program. I plan to take on whatever role is asked of me and run with it.”
With their win last Saturday, the Vikings officially took themselves out of the running for the first pick in April’s draft, which is universally believed to be Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. Gerhart is a former teammate of Luck and has heard reports that he could fetch three first-round picks if the team that locks down the No. 1 pick would trade it away. Gerhart believes the team giving up the bonanza of picks wouldn’t be sorry for the decision.
“He’s worth it,” Gerhart said. “He’s going to be something in this league. If he gets with the right system that can bring him along, he is going to be really good really fast.”
The City of Minneapolis has come up with a proposal for the “third option” for a stadium to keep the Vikings in the city. This site is tucked away in downtown close to I-94 near the Basilica of St. Mary, a $1.03 billion proposal. The Vikings continue to give their support to the Arden Hills site, which has already undergone months of study and preparation.
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.