Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 12/30/11
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. Toby Gerhart had heard the complaints from his mother regarding his long, wavy hair. Gerhart, the Minnesota Vikings' second-year running back, could handle the concerns of his mom. Unexpectedly though, Gerhart's mane received attention during the television broadcast of Saturday's game at Washington. After he replaced Adrian Peterson in the second half, video cameras offered a close-up of Gerhart on the sideline without his helmet leading to barbs from broadcasters Chris Myers and Tim Ryan, who noted that Gerhart looked like he was from a 1970's television show. The comments supported Mrs. Gerhart's feelings and the tweets soon followed as well. "My mom wouldn't let it down," Gerhart said of the broadcaster's references. "My mom hates my hair. She tells me cut it every week. I just tell her I don't care about it right now. I'm not going to cut it until the season is over." While his looks might not be up-to-date, Gerhart is starting to look every bit the part of an every-down NFL back. Benefitting from the injuries to Adrian Peterson, Gerhart has had the top three rushing performances of his career in the past four games resembling the Heisman Trophy runner-up the Vikings drafted in the second round out of Stanford last year. Last week against Washington, Gerhart broke the 100-yard barrier for the first time as a pro, rushing for 109 yards on 11 carries, including the longest play of his career, a 67-yard run on his first carry after Peterson left with serious knee injury. Peterson had successful surgery to repair tears to his ACL and MCL on Friday and Minnesota hopes he can return before the start of the 2012 season. However, the past four games have demonstrated the Vikings can rely on Gerhart if Peterson isn't ready. "These last couple of weeks when I've gotten those chances to be the guy for the game when Adrian was out with his ankle and unfortunately now, I think I've proven that I can carry it 20 times and wear defenses down," Gerhart said. Gerhart has started four games in place of Peterson this season and will start Sunday against the Chicago Bears. Gerhart averaged just 2.6 yards-per-carry in his first start of the year, rushing for 44 yards in a loss to the Falcons, but the Vikings have seen a different Gerhart recently. A week later, Gerhart ran for 91 yards against the Broncos and followed up with a 90-yard performance against the Detroit Lions. Peterson returned a week later, but Gerhart added two receiving touchdowns against New Orleans. "His confidence has really grown," coach Leslie Frazier said. "I don't think he's ever doubted that he has the abilities, but first game in Adrian's absence it seemed like he wasn't quite where he was a year ago and that had a lot to do with just getting a few reps here or there. His second outing, his second start, you saw the Toby that we all expected to see and each time he's gone in since, he's gotten better and better."Gerhart admits to struggling last year and being overwhelmed by the series of off-field distractions. He had a career-high 22 carries last season during a game at Washington after Peterson left with an ankle injury, finishing with 76 yards and a touchdown. Three weeks later, Gerhart had 16 carries for a career-high 77 yards in his first start.He feels he's come a long way from last season's crash-course in the NFL."I think I'm much improved in terms of the speed of the game, picking things up and really just going out there and playing," Gerhart said. "Last year I was a little hesitant. I was afraid to make mistakes. Just get my feet wet and I didn't want to do something too crazy and mess up. Now it's just relaxing and playing."Peterson played a big part in Gerhart's development. The two quickly became friends and Peterson mentored Gerhart in the ways of being an NFL running back.While he's gotten his biggest break due to Peterson's injuries, it's not the way Gerhart would have chosen his path to a starting NFL job."With Adrian being a good friend of mine, someone that's treated me like a brother, it's a terrible thing," Gerhart said. "He's in our thoughts and prayers and he's going to bounce back better than ever."Meanwhile, Gerhart said he isn't letting the possibility of opening next season as the starter factor into his offseason preparation."I'm coming into compete with Adrian, push him, have him push me," Gerhart said. "If for some unfortunate reason he's not ready by the time camp comes, I'll be prepared to hopefully take over that role." Peterson's surgery a success: Peterson underwent surgery in Alabama on Friday with noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews. Peterson had surgery to repair tears to the ACL and MCL. He also sustained damage to the medial and lateral meniscus when he took a direct hit to the knee in the third quarter of last week's game at Washington."We've received word that Adrian underwent successful knee surgery with Dr. James Andrews and is now resting comfortably," Frazier said in a statement. "Adrian is in our thoughts, we wish him a speedy recovery and we look forward to seeing him when he returns to Minnesota."Peterson is expected to return to Minnesota on Monday and Frazier said he hopes the four-time Pro Bowl back will do the majority of his rehabilitation in Minnesota with Vikings trainers.
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