MANKATO, Minn. With Adrian Peterson relegated to the side fields at training camp while rehabbing from knee surgery, Toby Gerhart has been there for the Minnesota Vikings to take every first-team snap at running back.
Gerhart is ready to be Minnesota's lead back if Peterson isn't ready for the regular season starting Sept. 9. Now, Gerhart is being treated like a No. 1 running back.
Peterson, who was in Houston for a court hearing stemming from last month's incident with Houston Police, won't be activated before Friday's preseason opener at San Francisco. Gerhart, as he has done for the past two seasons, ascends to the top spot in the Vikings' running back hierarchy and coach Leslie Frazier said he will be getting the starter's treatment in the preseason.
"Well, we'll get him in there some, but we're not going to hand it off to him a lot, not in the preseason," Frazier said. "He'll have limited reps for sure."
Frazier said Peterson, who had his court hearing pushed back to Sept. 27 at the earliest in court on Monday, will remain on the physically unable to perform list through the end of this week. He will be re-evaluated next week in Minnesota's continuing effort to make sure he is ready to go before letting him loose in practice or games.
And Gerhart prepared this offseason to be Minnesota's starter if called upon.
"I hope Adrian's back, everyone does," Gerhart said. "If for some reason he's not ready, I'm ready to carry the load and help this team win."
Gerhart has called this season, and offseason, his "first, true year of NFL football" after being a second-round pick in 2010 and then having the offseason wiped out last year due to the lockout. Gerhart was noticeably bigger when he returned to Minnesota, ready to handle the pounding of every-down work. He also worked on his speed, feeling in the past he's left yards on the field.
And in better shape with a better knowledge of the offensive system, Gerhart is ready for more action, even after Peterson returns. The Vikings will likely involve Gerhart more to help preserve Peterson. For now, Gerhart is the starter and has prepared as such.
"He doesn't seem like a guy who's ready to settle for being a backup running back, which is a good thing," Frazier said. "He's preparing himself as if he's going to have to start against Jacksonville, which is the way we want to see it happen. He's practicing the right way."
With Peterson inactive for Friday's preseason game against San Francisco and Gerhart getting limited carries, Minnesota's depth will get a look and Frazier said several players will get a look. Lex Hilliard is currently next behind Gerhart on the depth chart. Jordan Todman, who's been dealing with an ankle sprain, is third and undrafted rookie Derrick Coleman is fourth. And Frazier also wants to see how some of the team's fullbacks can carry the ball.
"Depends on if Jordan is able to go," Frazier said when asked if the depth is a little short for Friday. "We don't know that yet, but we still want to be able to see Lex run. We still want to be able to take a look at Derrick. We have some options and we want to see Matt Asiata take some carries. (Ryan) D'Imperio, even though he's a fullback. We'd like to have Jordan out there, but we'll see."
The competition for a roster spot behind Peterson and Gerhart will come down to these preseason games. Hilliard and Todman have different skills and are in a battle for the third, and likely last, running back spot on the 53-man roster to open the season. Hilliard is the more experienced option, a big power style back. Todman has speed and burst. Special teams play could be the tie-breaker between the two.
"Usually it does when you're talking about the third guy, not so much the second guy because he could be splitting carries with the first guy," Frazier said. "But Lex has played in this league and been successful, and one of his fortes is being a good special teams player. He's a proven commodity in that area. That's one of the reasons we signed him, because he not only gives you something in the backfield, but he's been a very good special teams player, whereas Jordan has been a guy who has been on a practice squad and he's still learning the NFL. There's a difference there, but he has some juice and that was one of the attractions when we signed him. They are different in their careers and where they are."
Friday's preseason game will be the next step in the competition, right after Gerhart gets the starter's preseason reps for the first time in his career.
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