The post-Adrian Peterson injury period got started for the Vikings almost immediately after he crumbled on the turf of FedEx Field and it became apparent that he was going to be lost for a considerable period of time. Although the expectation is that Peterson will be back next year, the Vikings had a more immediate need to reload at running back.
One of the moves was to pluck rookie running back Jordan Todman from the San Diego practice squad. Todman, a sixth-round rookie, was an undersized back (5-foot-9, 203) that could develop into an ideal third-down type back. Head coach Leslie Frazier said Todman has already been making an impression on the coaching staff.
“His quickness, his speed, excellent agility and he’s a very bright kid, as well. He was a very good player in college," Frazier said. "But his burst really separates him from a lot of players — I think he's like a 4.3, 4.4 40, so he’s got some top-end speed.”
A hard-nosed kid who grew up on the tough streets of Boston, he said he was a bit surprised the Vikings made the move to get him off the San Diego practice squad because of how late it is in the season.
His surprise quickly transformed into the biggest decision of his professional career. In San Diego, he had been cut and re-signed to the practice squad. He knew that, at a minimum, he would be behind young running backs Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert. Given the fluid situation following the injury to Peterson, there could be a much better shot at living out his NFL dream with the Vikings.
“A lot of things went through my mind,” Todman said. “I had to weigh my options, because a decision like this can change your life. I talked to my family and we looked around, we thought this was the best decision for me and the Vikings were the best team to be on. I’m just happy and excited to contribute, even though we only have a week left. I’m going to make the best of this time, get a fresh start to move forward.”
Todman is going to be more than just a one-game wonder. He signed a contract for 2012, so he will be taking part in the team’s offseason program and, while his contribution Sunday against the Bears may be minimal, he is embracing the opportunity to try to make a big impression in a short period of time.
“It’s a short window, but I’m going to bust my butt to make an impression on the coaches,” Todman said. “I look forward to the offseason and a chance to get my foot in the door and help the Vikings from this point on.”
Todman wasn’t a complete stranger coming into the Vikings. He worked out with fellow rookie Kyle Rudolph during the lockout and is represented by the same agents as Toby Gerhart. Both have gone out of their way to make Todman’s transition a little easier, especially Gerhart, who knows all too well what it’s like to be the new kid on the block.
When Gerhart arrived at training camp in 2010 as a second-round rookie, he was the object of more than his share of big hits from Vikings defensive players trying to send a message. While hard contact against fellow teammates isn’t typical in practices, veterans like Pat Williams and Ray Edwards made a point to deliver big shots to Gerhart early – much bigger than were necessary. He never forgot the feeling he experienced early and said he wanted to be somebody Todman could turn to for help and advice as he goes through the process of familiarizing himself with his new teammates.
“It’s hard to come in as the new guy,” Gerhart said. “It’s even tougher in his situation. He has four days to get ready to prepare for a game with his new team. Throughout practice I was standing next to him if I wasn’t in a play call asking him who he would have (in a blocking situation) and what I would do – just so he can hear it and see it right away instead of seeing it on paper. I’m just helping him feel comfortable. It’s hard when you’re a new guy in a new place and I just want to help him become the ball player he is.”
Gerhart said that, while times were difficult at first in his case, there were players sympathetic to his position and gave him some much-needed assistance in making his own transition. He feels obligated to help his new friend and, although just in his second season, serve as the same type of mentor some of his Vikings teammates did for him when he arrived in Mankato in July 2010.
“When I came in here, some guys took me under their wing right away and made me feel comfortable,” Gerhart said. “For him, I’ve known him since this year. We’re represented by the same agency, so I got to know him as he was preparing to get drafted. I’ve got a chance to know him and hopefully I can take him under my wing and help him prepare for this week and next year as well.”
Todman doesn’t know what the future holds with the Vikings, but said he is extremely happy with the decision he made and hopes that it will pay off in becoming a member of the Vikings not just for this week’s season finale, but for years to come. He has been made to feel welcome in the organization and said now it’s all up to him to take advantage of his new-found opportunity.
“Those guys have welcomed me with open arms,” Todman said. “It’s never easy being the new guy in the locker room, especially this late in the year when everyone else is so familiar with each other. Having guys in your corner makes it a lot easier and you don’t feel so alone. We’re all here to work, so that’s your focus, but having guys in the locker room that you know and are willing to show you around and help get you acclimated is a big help.”
Whether Todman becomes a long-term member of the Vikings or not, the organization is giving him a new lease on his NFL life – a legitimate chance to fight for a roster spot. It’s a fight he’s more than willing to take on, because he believes he is one step closer to realizing a goal he set back in his Pop Warner days as a grade-schooler in Boston and it’s as close as it’s ever been right now.
“We’ve all had the same dream since we started playing football when we were seven years old,” Todman said. “That’s been my dream all along – to play in the NFL and help my team get to the playoffs and hopefully win a championship. It’s all about getting an opportunity. I have that now with the Vikings and I’m going to make the most of this chance and prove to them that I can contribute and help all of us achieve those goals of being a championship team.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.