By Joe Tischler
Special to The Free Press
---- — Vikings’ running back Toby Gerhart was expected to play a larger role going into training camp last season than he had in his first two seasons in the league. That wasn't considered a surprise since Adrian Peterson spent last offseason recovering from surgery to repair both the ACL and MCL in his left knee.
Instead, Gerhart had the fewest carries he’s had over his first three NFL seasons with 50. He watched as Peterson had a year for the ages, rushing for 2,097 yards, the second highest single season rushing total in NFL history.
Despite seeing less playing time, Gerhart couldn’t help but marvel at just how amazing Peterson’s performance was in 2012.
“It was crazy, especially coming back off an injury that people questioned if he was ever going to make it back and to come up nine yards short (of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single season NFL rushing record) was truly spectacular,” he said. “That’s why he’s the best at what he does.”
With Peterson fully healthy, Gerhart’s mindset this training camp is different.
“AP’s back this year. He’s healthy and good to go,” he said. “There’s not that anticipation or expectation or the unknown of what is going to happen like last year. For me, I’m just coming out and trying to get better each and every year.”
Gerhart is entering the final year of a 4-year contract he signed in 2010 when he was drafted in the second round out of Stanford. For his career, Gerhart has 240 carries for 1,022 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. He also has 64 receptions for 512 yards and three touchdowns. Trying to improve his numbers for his next contract will be tough when he’s playing behind the league MVP.
“I just have to play well,” said Gerhart. “Obviously Adrian is the focal point of our offense and he’s going to get the majority of the carries. When I get my opportunity, I’ve got to make them count and just execute.”
Peterson didn’t get any carries last preseason and isn’t expected to get many rushes, if any, this preseason either. Logically, that could mean Gerhart would get his fair share of carries in exhibtion games, but head coach Leslie Frazier says that won’t necessarily be the case.
Because the team is familiar with what Gerhart can do, the coaching staff may not ask him to do much over the next few weeks. That was pretty evident on Friday in the preseason opener against Houston. Gerhart rushed just four times for seven yards and did not catch a pass.
“You want (Gerhart) to get some timing down and be able to hit the holes and get some things in that he might not be able to get a lot of looks at during the regular season,” said Frazier. “At the same time, we don’t want to over-expose him. He’s a very important part of our football team so we’re cautious in how we use him in the preseason.”