So far, so good.
That is the early self-assessment of rookie running back Toby Gerhart on his first few days of training camp. While he gained some experience during the minicamps, having the full roster of players on the field has been exciting. So has the crowds that have flocked to each of the practices – filling the stands along the sidelines of the practice fields and letting the players know that they appreciate their efforts. It has been an experience he wasn't anticipating or prepared for.
"It's been more than I expected," Gerhart said. "I didn't expect this kind of scenery at practices. (At Stanford), you had maybe 10 people watching practice. Here you have thousands and they're cheering and clapping and ‘ooh-ing and ahh-ing' every time a play is being made."
Gerhart has been one of the more popular Vikings with the fans, who yell out his name whenever he gets close to the sidelines. He said that it has helped pump him up emotionally as he attempts to integrate himself into the Vikings offense, which can be a little daunting for a rookie.
"I'm up to the challenge," Gerhart said. "This is a great atmosphere out here. There are big crowds that are into it, so that helps. I'm just trying to catch on to the offense as quickly as a I can and learn the system. There's been a lot to do here these last few days."
Among those things has been picking himself up off the turf a few times even though contact is expected to be limited. Known as a power runner, defensive players have taken a few shots at him to see if he is as tough as they have been led to believe. Notably, Pat Williams delivered a big hit on Gerhart, who bounced back up immediately afterward so as not to let the defenders get a chance to hoot at him.
"I think that's to be expected as a rookie coming in," Gerhart said. "I was a physical back in college and I think of the guys know that and have wanted to test me a little bit. I'm going to face some licks out here, but I'm up for it, I'm ready for it and we'll see how it goes."
Gerhart said Adrian Peterson has been a big help in his assimilation into the Vikings. They have sat together in film study and on the practice field and Peterson has been giving Gerhart some pointers on the fundamentals he will have to master at the next level.
"Adrian has been helping me out a lot, talking about protections, footwork, reads," Gerhart said. "He's one of the best, if not the best running back in the league. Working with him each and every day is only going to make me better and make this team better."
Perhaps the biggest adjustment has been dealing with running backs coach Eric Bieniemy. A fiery coach who demands perfection, his voice booms across the practice field – at times losing training camp's PG-13 rating. If you're a running back and you screw up a play, everyone within earshot, which in Bienemy's case is about as far as the ear can hear, will know about it. When asked if he's ever had someone yell at him like Bieniemy does, he had a personal comparison.
"Just my dad," Gerhart said with a chuckle. "He's an intense coach and it makes us players better. You have to learn to take what he says and keep moving on. If you dwell on it, it's going to run you down. But I think it motivates and makes you not want to mess up."
Some of his teammates said they haven't heard much from Bieniemy when it comes to chastising his young charge. Tarvaris Jackson said one of the hazards of being a Vikings running back is dealing with the lambasting they receive from Bieniemy. Not to hear Gerhart called out too often is a testament that he's doing things right.
"You know how E.B. is," Jackson said. "He's got on him a little bit. I commend him for adjusting to E.B. more than anything. He can be difficult back there and he's doing a good job with it."
Gerhart will get his first chance of training camp to show off what he does best as things get physical on Tuesday. The Vikings will have their first full-pad practice of the preseason and, although he was unaware it was coming, Gerhart's eyes lit up with he learned that. With pads on, he can deliver the blows instead of being on the receiving end.
"Full pads tomorrow?" Gerhart asked Monday, raising both eyebrows. "That's great. I don‘t know what's going on, so this is how I find about things. I'm a physical runner. I'm not the flashiest runner, so tomorrow in full pads, I hope I will show what I can do."
Gerhart getting on track
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