In the NFL, players and coaches have a term for diagnosing a team's plusses and minuses. They call it "putting it on film."
Simply translated, Toby Gerhart has been able to put much on film this season. Whether by design or the lack of consistent leads that lend itself to running the ball more, coming into last Sunday's game with Green Bay, Gerhart, who had 240 carries in his first three seasons – averaging a little more than five carries a game – had just 11 carries in 10 games, despite an 8.60-yard average.
Have the Vikings been trying to downplay Gerhart's role in the offense in hopes of getting a hometown discount when he hits the free agent market? A case could be made for that. How do you improve on averaging 8.6 yards? You average 11.4 on eight carries.
With Adrian Peterson carrying a heavy workload, the Vikings gave him a rest as he was doing a solid job of carving up the Green Bay run defense. Enter Gerhart.
He ran through the Packers defense with such consistency that Peterson got more than just a quick breather in the second half. For Gerhart, it was like old times.
"Hopefully, people were saying it was reminiscent of flashbacks to Stanford," Gerhart said. "That's my type of running. That's how I play and I was happy to get out there and put a couple of good plays together."
Gerhart never thought he would be a member of the Vikings. Of all the teams that needed a running back in the second round of the 2010 draft, the Vikings were about last on the list. They already knew what they had. Gerhart wasn't drafted to be Peterson 2.0. He was drafted to be Chester Taylor 2.0.
Gerhart admitted it's been difficult playing behind the league's best running back, but said it's been both a blessing and a curse.
"It's definitely rough," Gerhart said. "As a running back, you want to get those touches and be on the field. But when you're in a system behind Adrian Peterson – one of the greatest to ever play the game, last year's MVP – it's tough to see the field. Especially with a machine like him who doesn't get tired. It can be frustrating, but, at the same time, it's been rewarding. I've got to work with him, learn from him and, when my number is called, just try to make the most of it."
The hardest part of the transition to the Peterson-dominated NFL was that he was like a shortstop prospect over a 20-year span in the Baltimore Orioles organization. His entire football career was predicated on being a workhorse who got 20-30 carries a game. He feels at his best when his power running style takes a toll on defenders.
"I'm a bigger running back, I'm more of a downhill guy," Gerhart said. "I wear a defense down. I get in a rhythm when I get multiple carries. It's harder for me to get one carry in the first (quarter) and one carry in the fourth to really show what I can do. I'm not the scat(back) who can break it 80 yards every time when I touch the ball. I definitely grind it out and get more yards as I go along."
The game plan for Sunday against the porous Bears run defense will likely be similar to what the Vikings accomplished against Green Bay. Run early. Run hard. Run often.
"We just want to continue and build on what we had last game," Gerhart said. "Vikings football begins and ends with our running game. Hopefully, we have a good scheme going in here and can execute it, get working, establish our running game and move the ball down the field."
One of the reasons the Vikings might have more of a penchant to run was that the rush offense was dominant at times against Green Bay and, statistically, the Bears have the worst run defense in the NFL. Gerhart credited his success last week to the rest of the offensive front getting its job done to create huge running lanes.
"I think we finally played a complete game as an offensive line in terms of running the ball," Gerhart said. "Of course, we didn't see the result we wanted with a win. They played physical and moved them off the ball. The receivers were blocking on the edges. It was a good run game for us. Adrian put it where it was supposed to be, I put it where it was supposed to be and we got some yards."
At the end of the season, Gerhart becomes a free agent and what he has put on film will be viewed by franchises looking to find a complementary back or lead dog. His opportunity is coming, even with limited film exposure this season. But he's not concerning himself with that prospect … yet.
"All I'm focused on is Chicago on Sunday, that's it," Gerhart said.
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.
Gerhart gearing up, trying to find his groove
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