EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. Selected in the second round of the 2010 draft, Minnesota Vikings running back Toby Gerhart has displayed one key trait in his 16 months with the team: patience.
Gerhart knew the situation he was walking into when he was the 51st overall pick. The 6-foot, 231-pounder was chosen to be Adrian Peterson's backup and possibly receive time as a third-down back. The result has been one start in 25 career games for the onetime workhorse back at Stanford."It is tough," Gerhart said. "It's different. Coming from Stanford, where I carried the ball 20-plus times a game, to one, maybe two a game. It's difficult, but at the same time that was the kind of the role I'm in. I knew with Adrian -- one of the best in the game, if not the best in the game -- backing him up my opportunities were going to be limited and I had to make the most of them. It's been tough, but that's kind of the role I was in."Gerhart's role could be changing dramatically after Peterson was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain this week. Gerhart will start Sunday against Atlanta's second-ranked run defense if Peterson is unavailable.Peterson has been in a walking boot this week, and the team hopes he can test out the injury Friday. He has a Grade 1 high ankle sprain the least severe but high ankle sprains tend to require more recovery time, which makes it unlikely Peterson will be ready for Sunday. If the injury lingers, Gerhart might receive the most extensive playing time of his young NFL career."It's an opportunity," he said. "I'm excited to really get a chance to go out there and be the feature guy and get consecutive carries on consecutive plays, consecutive series. You don't ever want it to come at another man's expense, especially a teammate and a guy like Adrian. My whole goal is to go out there, play football and perform and help this team get on track and try to win a few games."Biding his time as Peterson's backup, Gerhart doesn't get on the field often. He has just 24 carries through 10 games this season and finished with 81 carries last year. It has been quite a transition coming from Stanford, where Gerhart set the school record for rushing attempts and rushing touchdowns and was second all-time in rushing yards. He finished his senior season with 1,913 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns, placing second in the 2009 Heisman Trophy balloting to Alabama's Mark Ingram in the closest race in Heisman history.The price for Gerhart wasn't cheap. When the Vikings lost third-down back Chester Taylor after the 2009 season, they felt they needed a quality backup for Peterson and someone who could excel on third downs. The Vikings traded up into the second round, swapping second-round picks and giving a third-rounder to Houston for the right to draft Gerhart.Since then, his playing time hasn't matched his lofty draft status."It's tough, but at the same time when I get those opportunities I've got to make the most of it," Gerhart said. "Every time you're on the field, you're representing of course the team, the city, your family -- and that's your resume. Maybe if I get two carries in a game I need to make those two carries count for future playing time with the Vikings down the road or wherever it may be -- that's my resume."Gerhart has been out of the nationwide spotlight since arriving in Minnesota, but his teammates know what he is capable of."I think people forget that he was runner-up for the Heisman," defensive end Jared Allen said. "Hopefully, we can see some of that magic and he'll carry the load just fine and we'll get AD back as soon as we can."
Gerhart had a career-high 22 carries last season during a game at Washington after Peterson left with an ankle injury. He finished with 76 yards and the only touchdown of his career. Three weeks later, he had 16 carries for a career-high 77 yards in his lone start against Chicago.This season, he hadn't had more than five carries in a game before last week. Gerhart had seven attempts for 18 yards in Sunday's 27-21 loss to Oakland after Peterson left the game with 14 seconds remaining in the first quarter."When he had to play a year ago against the Redskins, he showed he's more than capable," coach Leslie Frazier said. "This could possibly be one of those moments where he'll get extended reps as well. We have confidence in him. He just plays behind the best running back in the National Football League, but we know he is more than capable of doing a good job as a running back."Frazier said Lorenzo Booker could get some snaps at running back as well and that receiver Percy Harvin will also stay in the mix for carries, as he has done all season. Harvin actually has more carries this season than Gerhart --28 for 224 yards, an 8.0 average.Gerhart has averaged 4.2 yards per carry as a Viking. In Week 2 of this season, he provided the biggest plays of his career, a 31-yard run and a 42-yard catch. With so little game action, he has had to find different ways to assess his progress."For me, it's just continually understanding the system, the speed of the game, confidence and just playing," Gerhart said. "Last year, I feel like I was nervous when I got my shot and a little hesitant, but now I feel much more confident, much more relaxed just going out there and playing football and doing the thing I've done since I was 8 years old."Ponder added to injury report: Quarterback Christian Ponder was a surprise addition to the Vikings' injury report Wednesday afternoon. Ponder was listed last week with a sore hand, but he was listed Wednesday as a limited participant with a knee injury. Frazier didn't mention the injury earlier and was unavailable after practice for comment.
Peterson was held out of Wednesday's practice and is still in his walking boot. Frazier said the plan was to have Peterson wear the boot until Thursday and he would be re-evaluated Friday. Frazier said Peterson would be listed as out for Sunday's game if he can't practice Friday.
Safety Husain Abdullah (concussion) and tight ends Visanthe Shiancoe (hamstring) and Kyle Rudolph (quadriceps) were held out of Wednesday practice. Linebacker Erin Henderson (hamstring), guard Anthony Herrera (knee) and Harvin (ribs) were limited on Wednesday. Defensive tackle Christian Ballard (hamstring), tackle Charlie Johnson (achilles) and safety Jamarca Sanford (shoulder) were full participants.