Gerhart playing catch-up

Because of an NFL rule limiting his availability to mandatory practices, rookie Toby Gerhart wasn't able to participate in organized team activities. That meant an early arrival at Winter Park last week for makeup sessions before minicamp. Gerhart and his coaches talked about his packed days and where he's at in his progress.

Toby Gerhart says he's faster than most people think – he ran a 4.60 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine – but this weekend he was playing catch-up.

Gerhart, one of two second-round draft picks for the Vikings, was required to miss all of the organized team activities between rookie camp and this weekend's minicamp because of an NFL rule limiting the amount of work for rookies in schools that finish late (Stanford is one of them).

"It's a big weekend. It's the first time getting back out here since (rookie) camp. Just getting back in the hang of it can mean a lot. (I'm) trying to catch up on what I missed, just getting out here with everybody and competing," Gerhart said.

"I had a little butterflies going (Friday) morning. Until that first snap, definitely a little nerves. But once you get going, it's just football. You're out here having fun and competing."

However, he was disappointed that he fumbled the ball one time in his first practice.

"It was going well and I put the ball on the ground. I need to hold onto it," he said.

Of course, fumbling was a hot-button topic for the Vikings last year after running back Adrian Peterson led all non-quarterbacks with seven fumbles – six of those lost – during the regular season. Peterson was credited with two more fumbles in the NFC Championship Game and could have been tagged with another one during an exchange with quarterback Brett Favre.

But beyond holding onto the ball, Gerhart is trying to make up for lost time on the practice field. While his new teammates were taking part in a dozen practices between rookie camp and the full-team mandatory minicamp this weekend, Gerhart was back in California studying for his finals and trying to get in better football shape, although he admitted that the faster tempo of practice can't be fully simulated by running sprints without a helmet.

When he completed his last final, he was in a hurry to get his professional career off the ground. After taking his last test on Tuesday, he hopped on a red-eye to the Twin Cities and headed to the Winter Park practice facility to resume his studies with his new professor, running backs coach Eric Bieniemy.

"It was a little tough, but I made time to study (the playbook back in California)," he said. "I got weekly installments and studied it as best I could. It's a little bit different not being here, having him (Bieniemy) explaining the exact details of it, but for the most part I had a pretty good baseline understanding of what was going on."

"He has done a nice job. First and foremost, has just been picking up the offense. He is fortunate enough to have run a similar offense from when he was in college," said offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who pointed to Gerhart's study habits. "As a Stanford guy, he picks it up pretty quickly as well. And then it has carried over to the field. You see him making some plays. He did a nice job out here catching some balls, which is something that we wanted to see him do. … He has a lot going through his mind, but he has done a nice job."

Gerhart may have felt a little behind in his first practice Friday, "but that's the circumstance I was in. I was finishing my education. Once I got here, me and Coach E.B. have been in a room going over everything and I feel like those extra hours have really allowed me to catch up and get back on the same level with all of these guys."

Gerhart said he was meeting with Bieniemy pretty much all day for two days when he arrived at Winter Park before starting a more normal schedule on Friday.

He learned the basics in rookie camp, went back to Stanford to work on the playbook in between his studies and tried to make up for four weeks of missed installations in two days of meetings earlier this week.

On Friday, he got plenty of work with Peterson missing minicamp to attend Adrian Peterson Day in his hometown of Palestine, Texas.

"The plus part of not having Adrian Peterson here is the fact that Toby gets elevated reps right now. He's a bright-eyed guy," Childress said. "The minute he comes in, Eric Bieniemy grabs hold of him, there is some recall – A, from the rookie minicamp and, B, from the system he was in, in college. Conceptually, he'll get up to speed very quick. But the speed of the game you can't simulate on the Stanford campus or anywhere."

Gerhart is returning to Minnesota on Sunday for one more week of work with other rookies before a break. After that, it will be time to prove what he can do when the pads go for training camp.

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

Viking Update Top Stories