While none of the three are teammates of Gerhart anymore, they were two years ago when Gerhart came in as a highly-touted rookie. It seemed as though veteran defenders, especially Williams and Edwards, singled out Gerhart for abuse – routinely drilling him at the sidelines even in practice drills that didn't call for contact.
It would have been easy for Gerhart to get salty about his treatment. It wasn't masked. It wasn't veiled. It was in his face and he kept bouncing up, occasionally shoving back and moving on to the next play. However, Gerhart knew that to earn the respect of his teammates, he needed to prove to them he could take a pounding – not only from opponents, but from his own teammates.
"I think it was more of an initiation – a ‘welcome to the NFL' kind of thing," Gerhart said. "I took plenty of lumps my rookie year and it did seem like some of the guys went out of their way to lay a big hit on me to see if I could take it. We're still pushing each other hard, but I'm not getting waylaid on the sidelines anymore."
Many were surprised when the Vikings took Gerhart in the second round of the 2010 draft. After all, they already had the game's best running back in Adrian Peterson, but they saw something in Gerhart that would be a good fit with the Vikings – especially if Peterson went down to injury. That happened last year and Gerhart responded.
With Peterson still a question mark, Gerhart is using this year's training camp to improve his own game. No longer having to sacrifice reps for the franchise player, he said he is getting more work than he has in his career during this training camp.
"Any time you can get more reps and practice all the plays instead of just some of them, the more well-rounded you become," Gerhart said. "I've been feeling very good about things so far and our offense has shown a lot of improvement."
When Peterson went down against the Raiders, Gerhart had what, at the time, was a career day – rushing 21 times for 91 yards and catching eight passes for 42 yards against the Lions. When Peterson was lost for the season against the Redskins, Gerhart posted his first career 100-yard rushing game in the NFL, carrying 11 times for 109 yards. He proved something to the coaches – so much so that the team didn't go after a veteran running back in free agency or in the draft as insurance. If A.P. can't go, he was infused with confidence that the team is content with him.
"It's definitely reassuring that they had enough faith in me that they didn't go out to get someone else to compete for the starting job if Adrian can't go," Gerhart said. "It's helped my confidence and shows me that they respect me and plan on me being able to help this team."
Head coach Leslie Frazier reiterated that sentiment, saying the NFL is a game of opportunity and Gerhart has made the most of his chance when given the ball.
"He's extremely comfortable where he is," Frazier said. "He knows how we feel about him. We feel he's a top back in this league. He's shown when he's had a chance to get reps and get carries that he can make plays for us. His confidence is high and he knows that, if things aren't right with Adrian – and even if they are – that first game of the season, he's going to get some carries. We're very comfortable with that."
If Peterson returns to form as he recovers from his knee surgery, Gerhart will resume his role as A.P.'s understudy. But he has proven something to those who wondered if he could be an adequate replacement. Gerhart always had the confidence he could. He now has a lot more believers.
"I didn't feel like I had to prove anything to myself, but I wanted to show the coaches and my teammates what I could do with the opportunity," Gerhart said. "I've always been comfortable knowing I could play running back at this level. I think it's been nice to show what I can do to other people when given the chance to show that I can step up and help this team. I think I showed I was capable last year and hopefully be even better this year."
THURSDAY PRACTICE NOTES