EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. The familiar refrain coming from Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman whenever discussion inevitably comes to the running back position and rehabbing Adrian Peterson has always been, "We have confidence in Toby."
Toby Gerhart, who seemed like a luxury pick two years ago, has been Minnesota's security blanket when injuries have hit Peterson, such as the torn knee ligaments that required Peterson's December surgery. Gerhart, a second-round pick in 2010, showed last season why the Vikings have confidence in him.
While Peterson missed three weeks with a high ankle sprain, Gerhart rushed for 225 yards and added 13 catches. When Peterson went down early in the second half at Washington with torn knee ligaments, Gerhart stepped in and produced his best game as a pro with 109 yards, including a career-long 67-yarder on his first carry after Peterson went down.
Now, given a normal offseason for the first time in his NFL career, Gerhart says he's been preparing as he always has, except this time he might be needed for a full-time role from Week 1 if Peterson isn't ready. Like always, Gerhart will be ready if called upon.
"I'm just preparing to be the guy," Gerhart said earlier this month during the team's offseason workouts. "I try to do that every year, but this year it's a little more prevalent. I'm doing everything I can to be here, work hard, work with the new guys we have coming in, pushing everybody and getting pushed by other guys. Preparing to be the guy, depending on whether Adrian comes back."
For a second-round pick and a former Heisman Trophy runner-up, Gerhart's NFL life has been understated. That's what happens when you're drafted as a backup to one of the league's top rushers. The 6-foot, 231-pound Gerhart had just 81 carries his rookie season. He had just 17 carries last year before Peterson's ankle sprain in Week 10.
Gerhart's first big chance might have come when Peterson limped off the field in Washington. But Peterson's recuperative powers he's on pace to be ready for the regular-season opener this season has again put Gerhart in wait-and-see mode.
He was also dealing with his own knee injury, a sprained medial collateral ligament suffered in the season-finale last year. Unlike Peterson, Gerhart didn't need surgery and he's been able to settle into an offseason routine.
"I feel I've been able to work through it pretty nicely," Gerhart said. "Coming back, it's getting better and better, just rehabbing the last few months. Got out here for a little bit; being back out here taking care of it, and its feeling good running around."
And a healthy Gerhart is participating in all the workouts in a regular offseason for the first time. He had the typically hectic rookie offseason and training camp in 2010 and then went through last year when the lockout shut down offseason programs.
The full offseason also gives Gerhart the chance to work on specific areas of his game. One emphasis and one of the biggest differences between him and Peterson is the ability to make defenders miss and turn modest gains into big ones. He's averaged a decent 4.5 yards per carry in his career, but feels there's more yardage left on the field.
"There are things you learn from last year that you want to improve last year," Gerhart said.
"For me, I'd like to be a little more agile in the second level. 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."
Anything he needs to do to be ready when his number is called.
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