As the Vikings begin their preparation for the Detroit Lions on Sunday, perhaps nobody will be more excited about getting on the field and in the action than Toby Gerhart. The running back wants to erase the memory of the final five minutes of the Vikings-San Francisco game and get the sour taste out of his mouth.
In the first 33 games of his career, Gerhart had fumbled just four times – spanning 234 touches. After fumbling three tines as a rookie, he hadn't lost a fumble in the 18 games he had played since then. Last Sunday, in the span four carries, he fumbled three times and lost two of them. While shrouded in controversy due to the officiating gaffe that allowed the 49ers to challenge two plays after they had officially called their final timeout, Gerhart has been waiting somewhat impatiently to get back into action.
"I've worked on that all week," Gerhart said. "I think it was one of those fluke things. It was crazy. You've got to get better. We watched it on tape and identified some things that we're going to work on this week. I'll be excited to get on the field, get that first carry, put it all behind me and move on."
The most difficult part may the balancing act that Gerhart has to go through in order to get past his first episode of fumblitis. He said the issue is more between his ears than between his fingers and doesn't want to let any of the doubts linger in the back of his mind.
"I was always a baseball player, too, when I was growing up and they called it ‘the yips' – the catcher has a hard time throwing it back – he's done it his whole life and suddenly he can't do throw it back to the pitcher," Gerhart said. "If you dwell on it and think about it too much you get overly conscious and you stop running the ball well. You're thinking about holding (the ball) rigid. Yes, you've got to adjust. Yes, as a running back, it should never come out. But, at the same time, you've got to go out and play and can't think about it too much."
When other players have had a penchant for fumbling, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once a runner gains that reputation, every time they get the ball, defenders are going after it – often at the expense of wrapping up and making a tackle. Giants great Tiki Barber completely changed how he carried the ball, moving it higher up his body and using his right arm to pin it against his chest. Adrian Peterson modified the way he held the ball after fumbling 20 times and losing 13 of them in his first three seasons. In the 33 games he has played in the last three seasons, Peterson has fumbled just three times, losing only one.
Gerhart believes his bout with the fumbling bug was a one-time deal and he needs to get back to the basics.
"I'll just make sure any time I come near contact, I put two hands on the ball," Gerhart said. "That's the way you've been taught since you were a kid. I got away from that a little bit and got overconfident and, in a situation like that (in the final) four minutes that everyone was going after the ball, I'll definitely be conscious of it. Coach Sax (running backs coach James Saxon) used the word ‘paranoid awareness' – you don't want to be too paranoid about, but at the same time you need to be aware of the situation and that everyone goes after the ball."
The good news on the Gerhart front is that his three fumbles didn't cost the Vikings a win. After playing their best team game arguably since beating Philadelphia in 2010, the Vikings are coming into Sunday's matchup with Detroit looking to make a statement. He said the team has built a lot of early momentum and a win over the Lions would kick that into high gear, and, along the way, rid Gerhart of his stigma as a fumbler and get on to bigger and better things.
"It's always better when you're winning – the atmosphere, the attitude, everything," Gerhart said. "The excitement to get on the field and to be together (after) beating a good team like San Francisco and going into Detroit on the road in their place, it's nice to have some steam going in to play a divisional opponent and keep at the top of the pack in the division."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings' Gerhart on fumbles: ‘It was crazy'
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