Craig: Gerhart stays grounded as he watches Peterson soar

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 21, 2012 - 2:20 PM

The backup running back isn't seeing a lot of action, but focus remains on winning.

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Toby Gerhart.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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This isn't the way Toby Gerhart saw things unfolding last offseason when he was building himself into the human ATV that would muscle the grind-it-out Vikings through rough times until Adrian Peterson could be eased back to greatness.

"I thought I'd get more touches than normal," Gerhart said. "But Adrian is a freak."

Gerhart wasn't complaining. Teammates say he never complains. The former Heisman Trophy runner-up lives in a 300-carry body that's on pace for a career-low 51, and yet he's still smiling.

"We got to the end of that Detroit game [Nov. 11] and I was like, 'Dang, I didn't get a single carry,'" Gerhart said. "Thankfully, I got two catches."

Yes, a professional running back just gave thanks for catching two passes for 15 yards.

"We're all here to win the game," he said. "Adrian was on a roll [171 yards]. Christian [Ponder] was spreading the ball around. And we beat the Lions for the second time to go 2-0 in our division."

Backup center Joe Berger has a locker next to Gerhart. Berger swears Gerhart is sincere.

"I don't think it's complicated," Berger said. "It's part of not having an ego and just doing your job. If you do anything different, you're just beating yourself up thinking about things you don't need to be thinking about."

Despite having his left knee surgically rebuilt last December, Peterson leads the NFL with 1,128 yards rushing, a career high through 10 games. With 195 carries, he's on pace for 312, which would be the third-highest total of his career.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Peterson's current pace of 112.8 yards per game and 5.8 yards per carry has been sustained over the course of an entire season only four times in the NFL's first 92 years. Jim Brown did it in 1958 (127.3 and 5.9 over 12 games) and 1963 (133.1 and 6.4 over 14 games). O.J. Simpson did it in 1973 (143.1 and 6.0 over 14 games) and Barry Sanders did it in 1997 (128.3 and 6.1 over 16 games). MVPs were won by those three in 1958, 1973 and 1997.

Can Peterson maintain his current pace? Well, he did say a week ago that he'd be even stronger after the bye. And by now, we'd all be wise to stop doubting his declarations.

"There are times when Adrian could easily step out and take a play off," Gerhart said. "But he wants to carry this team on his back because he's done that his entire career. It's a testament to his character, his attitude, his pride. That's impressive."

Meanwhile, Gerhart has 32 carries -- four fewer than Ponder -- for 122 yards (3.8). Of course, that number might be higher if Gerhart hadn't fumbled three times in the final 3 1/2 minutes of the Vikings' Week 3 win over the 49ers.

Since then, Gerhart has 13 carries in seven games. He had four consecutive games with one carry before going without one for only the second time in 41 games as a Viking.

"I get a lot of people saying, 'Hey, look at the bright side, you're staying healthy. Maybe next contract, you'll get an opportunity to carry the ball somewhere,'" Gerhart said. "We'll see what happens. But right now, I want to do whatever I can to help this team win. It's been a good year."

Gerhart is under contract through next season. At that point, he's almost certain to leave for a team looking for a No. 1 running back.

He could be the next Michael Turner. The 5-10, 237-pound Turner, a fifth-round pick of the Chargers in 2004, averaged 3.9 carries per game while backing up LaDainian Tomlinson in 59 games with one start over four seasons. The past 69 games, Turner has averaged 19.5 carries with two 1,300-yard seasons and one 1,600-yard season for the Falcons.

The 6-foot, 231-pound Gerhart, a second-round pick in 2010, has averaged 5.4 carries in 41 games with six starts. Over the final six games a year ago, Gerhart, 25, had 413 yards on 85 carries (4.9) while Peterson dealt with ankle and knee injuries.

"I'd love to carry the load," Gerhart said. "But Adrian is the best running back in football. He's the man. So I stay in tune with that and keep my mind right so I can talk with Adrian on the sideline and tell him things I saw. We communicate well, which is good because I pretty much live through him at this point."

Mark Craig • mark.craig@startribune.com

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