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By: Sam Ekstrom
Adrian Peterson is rehabbing well. Extremely well. In fact, he pledged to KFAN’s Paul Allen that he would score a touchdown Week 1 against Jacksonville. But for now, Peterson is hung up on the PUP, leaving Toby Gerhart as the focal point in the backfield.
Peterson or no Peterson, Gerhart will likely receive a large number of reps in the early weeks. The third-year running back described his time thus far as the team’s first-string rusher.
“It’s going well. I’m out here practicing hard, trying to gain the confidence of the starting offensive line and everybody else and just trying to be a leader.”
Gerhart’s leadership will be key considering the shoes he has to fill---those of one of the most competitive and explosive running backs in the National Football League. From the time Peterson went down Week 16 at Washington, Gerhart knew he’d have to try and fill the void left by the four-time Pro Bowler. It’s a different perspective for a player that was primarily drafted as a back-up.
“I try to prepare every year as if I’m the starter, but this year it’s a little more urgent. I’ve busted my butt this offseason to be able to carry the ball as many times as I need to, whether it’s five, 10, 15, 20, and help this team win some games.”
Gerhart proved last year that he can pick up the slack in the running game. The Stanford grad averaged 4.9 yards per carry in the final six games of last season, getting 85 carries with Peterson sidelined due to injury. Though it’s a small sample size, the 4.9 YPC is higher than any of Peterson’s season averages since 2007.
Gerhart averaged 5.4 YPC and ran for over 3,000 yards between his junior and senior campaigns at Stanford. The expanded role for the Vikings last season admittedly helped Gerhart break through and show flashes of his college self.
“As a running back, your position sort of goes in a rhythm. You’ll hit a defense for no gain, for three, for five, and then you’ll break it. It was tough to come in for one carry here, one carry here, one carry there and get a feel for the defense and how the game’s flowing. Once I got that rhythm going, I felt like I started to play better.”
Gerhart is also looking to be a pass-catching threat. He was utilized as a receiver more than his counterpart Peterson last season and caught more balls (23) than wide-outs Greg Camarillo and Bernard Berrian combined.
“I think I’ll continue to be a target out of the backfield. My first year I was primarily a third-down guy, and I had quite a bit of third-downs last year. I think I’ll still be potentially in that role catching passes. Hopefully Ponder checks it down to me every once in a while.”
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave told the media that the team was going to be cautious with Gerhart this preseason to ensure his health entering the Jacksonville game. With the departure of Lorenzo Booker, the third-string running back spot is in flux between 22-year old Jordan Todman and 28-year old veteran Lex Hilliard. Musgrave said he’ll be looking to fill that role with an all-around player who can block and catch passes. Neither candidate has received significant playing time at the NFL level.