Hartman: Gerhart produces when he gets a chance

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 12, 2013 - 1:04 AM

Backing up Adrian Peterson isn’t easy, but the Vikings back stays prepared as his free agency looms.

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Minnesota Vikings Toby Gerhart.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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Toby Gerhart was surprised when he got drafted 51st overall in the second round of the 2010 draft by the Vikings, but the former Stanford running back has developed into one of the most important Vikings players as Adrian Peterson’s backup. It would be a big blow to the team if, as expected, he signs as a free agent with another club after this season.

Gerhart recently said he doesn’t know what his future will hold with the Vikings.

“We’ll see what happens, I have no idea,” he said. “Who knows if another team wants me or if the Vikings still want me? I’ll focus on this year, and when it’s done, I’ll figure out what’s best for me and my family.

“I’ve enjoyed my time here. Adrian and I have a good relationship, and who knows what happens? I’ve enjoyed my four years here, and maybe they’ll sign me to back up Adrian for the rest of his career, who knows?”

Recent success

Coming into the Vikings’ Week 11 matchup at Seattle, Gerhart had only posted six games with more than 65 yards rushing in his four-year career (and all in his first two seasons), but he has now eclipsed that mark in three of the past four games with Peterson limited because of various injuries.

Against Seattle he carried the ball seven times for 67 yards. The next week against Green Bay he had eight rushes for 91 yards, averaging 11.4 yards per carry. He only received two carries in the Vikings’ overtime win over the Bears, but last week, with Peterson leaving the Ravens game early in the second quarter because of a mid-foot sprain, Gerhart had 15 carries for 89 yards and a touchdown that came on a season-best 41-yard carry.

That’s a drastic difference from last season, in which Peterson rushed for a near-record 2,097 yards, when Gerhart’s highest rushing total was 41 yards on six carries in a 30-7 victory over Tennessee.

He was asked what it’s like to have to wait for an opportunity to carry the ball behind one of the best running backs in NFL history.

“I know my role here is to back him up and to spell him on third downs,” Gerhart said. “I try to make the most of my chances when I get them.”

Gerhart was used fairly often in 2011 — even before Peterson’s Christmas Eve severe knee injury against the Redskins — posting a career-high 109 carries for 531 yards, including three games with more than 90 yards rushing.

In his rookie season of 2010, Gerhart rushed 81 times for 322 yards and one touchdown and had two games with over 75 yards rushing.

This season Gerhart already has eclipsed his yardage total from 2012, when he had 169 yards on 50 carries. This year his 283 yards have come on only 36 carries and his 7.9 yards per rush would be over 2 yards better than anyone in the NFL if he had enough carries to qualify for the league rushing leaders.

Gerhart, who missed practice Wednesday because of a hamstring injury, will most likely get a chance to start only his seventh regular-season game Sunday against the Eagles if he’s healthy and Peterson’s mid-foot sprain keeps him sidelined.

Gerhart said Peterson has taught him a lot.

“I’ve learned how to be a professional,” he said. “[Peterson] works hard, the way he pushes himself in the offseason, his conditioning, stuff like that. The things he does on the field are truly special, so I’ve learned a lot.”

Cole on Wilson

Vikings linebacker Audie Cole had the chance to play with Seahawks star quarterback Russell Wilson when the two were at North Carolina State, before Wilson transferred to Wisconsin.

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