Toby Gerhart was drafted in the second round in 2010, but being Adrian Peterson's backup can be a…
Gerhart patiently waiting in the wings
If Gerhart gets asked 10 questions, you can bet that seven or eight of them are going to be about Adrian Peterson. It's been that way since he arrived in Minnesota in 2010 when the team traded up in the second round to land him. It came as a surprise to many observers because the team already had A.P., who was universally acknowledged as the league's top running back in a pass-happy NFL. Ever since, he's heard the questions – over and over again.
Time has hardened him to the consistent third person line of questioning, but, like anything else in the life of a football player, he has learned to adapt and adjust.
"It doesn't bother me because I've gotten used to it," Gerhart said. "I think it's just the nature of the position I'm in. I probably have the closest relationship with Adrian in terms of sitting together in meetings, watching film, talking about plays. I think it's natural for people to ask those kinds of questions. It can get annoying at times, but he's the focal point of our offense and our team, so you're going to get those types of questions."
Gerhart could understandably have his regrets about being drafted by the Vikings. Not many teams use the old-school one-back system. Most use two if not three running backs in a rotation. Had Gerhart landed just about anywhere else on the draft weekend 2010, he likely would be competing to be a lead back in another offense. But he knows better than anyone else why Peterson is not only the pre-eminent back in the NFL, but when he makes predictions of shattering the all-time single season rushing record by 400 yards, some people believe he can do it.
"Everybody does kind of do that two-back system, but, with a guy like him, to wear down a defense and with so many things he does, it's hard to keep him off the field," Gerhart said. "You take a step back. I kind of take it for granted because I work with him every day, but he is truly one of the best players in the world and is going to go down in history as one of the greatest of all time."
When Gerhart was at Stanford, he was a punishing bell cow runner who set school records for production. But in three seasons with the Vikings, he has just 240 carries for 1,022 yards – with his least productive season being last year when he rushed just 50 times over 16 games – an average of just over three carries a game. Asked if there is a sense of frustration over his lack of use in the offense, Gerhart remains philosophical about the process.
"It's a double-edged sword," Gerhart said. "It's definitely frustrating because you want to be the guy and featured, but, at the same time, over the last four years, I've grown as a player and got to learn from one of the best, stayed relatively healthy and haven't got the pounding other guys would have got in their first four years. Hopefully it prolongs my career longevity-wise and I might get the opportunity to show what I can do in the future."
One thing his lack of playing time has done is diminish some of his bargaining power for his second NFL contract – the deal in which players tend to cash in for the biggest pay day of their pro careers. Gerhart maintains a similar philosophy when it comes to getting his second contract – there are positives and negatives to playing behind the league's reigning MVP.
"I thing it goes both ways," Gerhart said. "I haven't had the opportunity to play consistently for a season and show that I can rush for 1,000 (yards). But, at the same time, I'm not a guy whose been getting 350 or 400 carries a year and taken that pounding on my body that teams shy away from as a running back gets older. We'll see what happens."
While Gerhart has seen limited field time in his first three seasons, he is reminded of players like Michael Turner. He spent years as the understudy to LaDainian Tomlinson, but the Atlanta Falcons saw a player capable of being a featured back who had very little tread worn off the tires. He was a veteran with a rookie's wear and tear and the Falcons were rewarded for their investment. As Gerhart approaches free agency, he could possibly be the next Turner-style free agent.
"That's what my agent likens it to," Gerhart said. "When I get the opportunities, I've got to put things on film. I had a chance to start a game when (Peterson) got hurt. They'll probably go back to that film. Hopefully, I'll get more carries this preseason and get a chance to show what I can do when I get multiple carries consistently."
If Gerhart gets a big pay day – with the Vikings or someone else – that will have to be put on hold for now. He's under contract with the Vikings and is going to fulfill his commitment without complaint. He understands the business end of the game, just as he understands why reporters ask him so many questions that have nothing to do with him. He's focused on being ready to fill in for Peterson when he's hurt or needs a breather and is content in knowing that everything from a contract perspective will work itself out after the season.
"It's something I'm not thinking about right now because I'm a Viking and I'm working hard to be as good a player as I can be with this team this year," Gerhart said. "What's going to happen is going to happen. I feel like I have something to offer as a running back and, if that means being the No. 2 guy behind Adrian, I'm satisfied. I can't control the role I have and I understand why it is what it is right now. Adrian is amazing. The future may be different, but I'm not looking at the future now, I'm looking at what I can do to help the 2013 Vikings win a championship."
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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