Gerhart preparing to be the starter

Toby Gerhart (Mike McGinnis/Viking Update)

Toby Gerhart knows Adrian Peterson might return close to form by September, but Gerhart is preparing this offseason as if he will be the starter. He is also working on improving his foot quickness after assessing his extended action late last year.

The Vikings have had an incredible turnout this year at their offseason workout program, but some players have drawn more attention than others. Among them has been running back Toby Gerhart. With Adrian Peterson coming off a significant surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, Gerhart is preparing as if he will be the primary running back to open the season.

"I'm just preparing to be the guy," Gerhart said. "I try to do that every year, but this year it's a little more prevalent. I'm doing every I can to be here, work hard and work with the new guys we have coming, pushing everybody and getting pushed by other guys. I'm preparing to be the guy, depending on whether Adrian comes back."

Gerhart was no certainty to be ready at this point either. After replacing Peterson in the starting lineup, Gerhart suffered a medial collateral strain that was initially thought to be an injury that might require surgery, too. Gerhart said he was told to rest the injury for a month to six weeks to see if the injury could heal on its own. He was pleased to report that it did and that he has been working hard to come back stronger than he was before the injury.

A bulked-up Gerhart said he is looking forward to the offseason program because he never had one in his first two seasons in the NFL. His alma mater, Stanford, requires that scholarship athletes complete the school year, which precluded him from taking part in OTAs and minicamps in 2009. With the lockout last year, another opportunity was lost, making this year's offseason program his first full experience and it's something he is embracing.

"This is my first real offseason," Gerhart said. "Coming out of the draft, I was in school and wasn't able to come in until school was over. Then there was the lockout last year. This is my first true offseason. It's going well. We have a great turnout – pretty much everybody is here working hard and pushing each other."

Depending on Peterson's health, Gerhart's role in the offense is a fluid situation. But Gerhart's extended action in December when Peterson was out gave him something to work on during the offseason.

"There are things you learn from last year that you want to improve last year. For me, I'd like to be a little more agile in the second level," Gerhart said. "There were a couple of times coming through, about six to seven yards, if I can make a safety miss, it can be a bigger gain. Working on my feet a little bit, getting a little quicker, little shiftier left to right."

While Gerhart role at the start of the season is in question, there is no doubt that Christian Ponder will be the starter. A year ago, he was working out on his own and, once the lockout ended, found himself behind Donovan McNabb on the depth chart. A year later, Gerhart said he sees a different Ponder.

"He's really turning into a leader," Gerhart said. "I know from experience, it's hard as a rookie. You don't know your place. You don't want to speak out necessarily when you've had vets there for awhile and you haven't proven anything. For him, this year he's definitely taking ownership. He's being vocal. He's pushing everybody to stay after (practice), run some routes, stuff like that. He's really grown into a leader and is really trying to perfect his throws and get timing with everybody early in this offseason."

What the future holds for Gerhart may depend more on the future for Peterson than anything else, but he is ready to get the sour taste of the 3-13 season out of his mouth and is looking forward to bigger and better things in 2012.

"We can't do much worse than we did last year," Gerhart said. "We have talent. We're a good team – the second year in this system with a full offseason coming up. I really think we can make great strides. We play in a tough division against some of the top teams in the league. We feel we're right there with any of them. We're looking to go out and prove that to people."


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    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.

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