Gerhart fills the Taylor void

Ever since the news broke that running back Chester Taylor had signed with the Bears, the process of replacing the vital role he played in the Vikings offense began. It took almost two months and almost two rounds into the 2010 draft, but the team believes that Stanford rookie Toby Gerhart is the man to get that job done.

Almost from the day the Vikings lost Chester Taylor to the Chicago Bears in free agency, the question on the minds of many Vikings fans was simple: How do you replace someone who did so much in a reserve role?

The Vikings tried to fill the need by signing future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson, but L.T. opted to sign with the Jets. The name of Brian Westbrook, who played under Brad Childress in Philadelphia, came up often, but nothing had been done in that regard pre-draft. It appeared as though the Vikings were going to fill the need through the draft and they found their man in Toby Gerhart, a workhorse for Stanford and second-place finisher in the Heisman Trophy balloting.

So highly did the Vikings think of Gerhart that they moved up 11 picks in the second round to draft him and, in the process, gave up their third-round pick – effectively ending their second day of the draft less than two hours after it began.

Vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman said that the team targeted Gerhart and that, when the time came, they pulled the trigger and made the trade to bring him in because, in the Vikings' offensive scheme, he is viewed as a perfect fit – providing many of the traits the team is seeking from a No. 2 running back.

"It gives you some flexibility," Spielman said. "At the bottom, where we were picking in the third round and where we're picking in the fourth round tomorrow, there wasn't that much difference in picks. So, it gave us some flexibility that if there was a guy there that we really targeted, that we could go ahead and be aggressive to go get him. We felt that was a very important position to go get, since we lost Chester Taylor."

For those unfamiliar with Gerhart, he doesn't have that much in common with Taylor. While both are powerful runners, Gerhart is more in the mold of an old-school, between-the-tacklers bruiser in the mold of guys like Natrone Means. But many of the things he does well are things that Taylor excelled at, making the 230-pound rookie a valued commodity in the Vikings war room.

"Chester and him are a little different style runners," Spielman said. "Toby is a bigger runner. He has excellent in-line quickness for a big back, what we describe as an inside zone runner and most of our offense is predicated on inside zones. He does have very good hands out of the backfield. He's a big back that can stand there in (for) pass protection. I always felt and believed that you have to have two backs in this league. One back, regardless of how great that back is, to take a 16-game pounding, plus hopefully into the playoffs, just wears and tears on the body. Everywhere I've been, we've always had two pretty good backs. We had it down in Miami and we've always had it here. It was very fortunate that they had picked Chester up before I got here. Now this gives us another big back to go along with some of the other guys we have."

The decision to move up to get Gerhart was originally intended to get ahead of the Houston Texans, who Spielman said the Vikings believed were going to make a run at him themselves. The irony of the move-up deal was that, after being rebuffed by teams in front of Houston, the Vikings made an offer of their second- and third-round picks, which the Texans accepted.

"As we game-planned and (went) through our needs, I knew Houston was looking for a runner and also a corner," Spielman said. "They almost had some identical needs that we had. And when they took the corner, Kareem Jackson, yesterday, then you figured that if they had the opportunity to take a runner that they were going to take a running back. I'm just speculating that. That's just us trying to speculate on potentially what can happen. So we actually called teams before Houston's pick and then kept working down and were able to make the trade with Houston."

Gerhart's role will be defined in the coming months leading up the regular season, but the one portion of his game that is clear-cut is his power running style. He's hard to categorize because few runners his size have the kind of moves and ability to make plays in the open field. Although the Vikings became a dangerous passing team with the addition of Brett Favre last year, the bread-and-butter of their offense has been a power running game, highlighted by the play of Taylor and Peterson over the last four years. Gerhart brings even more intensified power to the Vikes' power rushing attack, something that appealed to head coach Brad Childress.

"It all starts up front – the physical running style," Childress said. "The guy you give the ball to, (you ask) can he break tackles? Can he make things happen on his own? He's a good football player and he just happens to have bigger skills and abilities."

Childress said he had conversations with Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh, whose offense is a pro-style offense that, in many ways, mirrors that of the Vikings. As a result, Gerhart was a player the Vikings targeted and, when the time was right, made the moves necessary to assure they got him and finally filled the void left two months ago by the exodus of Taylor to the Bears. While it may take some time, the Vikings are confident that this unfilled void has finally been filled.

"I know the system Jim runs and (Gerhart) will come in here and be able to adapt very quickly," Childress said. "It gives you a bigger body, whether you are talking about him as a backup running back or special teamer. We value those guys."

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.

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