Patience, humility required for Gerhart

Toby Gerhart was drafted in the second round in 2010, but being Adrian Peterson's backup can be a lonely calling.

Last month, NFL Network named Adrian Peterson the top player in the NFL for 2013, an honor that came via voting among his peers and was expected after an MVP season that fell just 8 yards short of tying the all-time single-season rushing record.

Behind him, however, might be the Maytag Washer Repairman among NFL running backs, a reference to the television commercials that featured a seldom-worked repairman from the 1970s and '80s.

In 2012, with Peterson rushing 348 times, second-most in the NFL, Toby Gerhart was a rarely used No. 2 man. He had only 50 rushes for 169 yards.

"He's a humble kid, a smart guy, hard worker, definition of a professional," Peterson said of Gerhart. "He comes in and whenever his number is called, he shows up and he does his job with no complaints. So he understands the situation and he does his part."

Still, with Peterson's success, Gerhart's role with the team has been diminished.

In fact, 71 other running backs had more attempts than Gerhart last year. It's a list that includes little-known names like Brandon Bolden of the New England Patriots.

Gerhart, a second-round draft pick in 2010, has been stuck behind Peterson, a first-round draft pick in 2007, his entire NFL career. Injuries to Peterson have allowed Gerhart to start six games in his three-year career, but Peterson's recovery from knee surgery in December 2011 and going for 2,097 rushing yards in 2012 resulted in other players calling him "Wolverine" and a "human super hero."

Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave can relate to Gehart's plight, but offered accolades for his attitude.

"Toby's done a fantastic job. He stepped up for us two years ago when Adrian got hurt. Even before Adrian's knee, Adrian had the ankle and Toby stepped up and did a great job for us. He's our Steady Eddie. He's there every day, he knows his protections, he hits the hole, the ball goes where it's supposed to and he's just pining away a little bit," Musgrave said.

"It's hard when you get the butterflies and the anxiety before a game then you don't get to exercise them. I know Toby has had to do that a lot because there's a certain build-up to every game on Saturday or Sunday and you don't get to go out there and do your thing, you're a little bit of a wreck there Sunday night and then he comes back and gets ready to do it next week."

Musgrave would know. He spent his final two of his six NFL seasons as a player stuck behind Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway in 1995-96 with the Denver Broncos, starting just one game and playing in 10. Before that he attempted only five passes in four seasons as Steve Young's backups in San Francisco.

Musgrave, who played at Oregon, knows that the transition from college starter to NFL backup can be a humbling one.

"But that is the transition when you're big man on campus and number two in the Heisman Trophy balloting and you come and you're not the focal point of an offense. It's a definite transition," he said of Gerhart. "It's hard to scale back like that."

Still, Gerhart's 50 carries represent the fewest of his three-year career. As a rookie, he had 109 rushes for 531 yards, and in 2011 he had 81 carries for 322 yards.

Despite the talent that landed him a second-round billing, his lack of opportunity of late left the Vikings not even mentioned among the top dozen "deepest backfields" in the NFL, according to NFL.com.

Peterson got his due from the league's official web site when it looked at the top NFL backs, writing it was "Adrian Peterson and then everyone else." But Gerhart and an otherwise anonymous supporting cast didn't get much consideration, apparently leaving out the fullbacks in the backfield discussion.

"Peterson reigns as king, but outside of Toby Gerhart, it would be a stretch to call Minnesota's backfield especially deep," NFL.com read. "The Vikings are a one-man show, but most teams around the league have chosen to build the ground game around multiple ball carriers, putting an emphasis on depth."

Factor in rushing attempts from quarterbacks in 2012 and Gerhart ranked 80th in the league year. Still, he has the respect of his teammates.

Peterson called Gerhart "an all-around player, a smart guy, tote the ball for us, great blocker, and just his knowledge of the game" in naming what he liked about his backup.

But as far as Peterson's backups go, they may be reminiscent of the Maytag repairman, and their uniforms don't often need to be cleaned after games anyway.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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