Adrian Peterson limped off the field in the second quarter of Sunday's win after his ankle was rolled up on by a Redskins defender. He had the ankle re-taped but couldn't re-enter the game after testing it several times on the sideline. Enter Toby Gerhart. The rookie running back has had a mostly quiet first season, but he stepped up with a key role in the Vikings' win in Leslie Frazier's debut as head coach.
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Gerhart's indoctrination into the NFL has not been a smooth process, with the hard-running back first butting heads with several Vikings veterans in training camp and then finding few reps to start the season behind Peterson. Slowly, the team found a role for Gerhart — on third downs, some red-zone situations and spelling Peterson one or two series per game — in the past month. He had received about 15-20 offensive snaps per game prior to Sunday.
The biggest problem to date had been his fumbling, losing two in only 37 touches through the first 10 games. Considering he entered the NFL with a reputation of not putting the ball on the ground, it was fairly disconcerting to see it happen with such regularity.
But Sunday, Gerhart had his best game as a pro, rushing 22 times for 76 yards and a five-yard TD with Peterson unable to go. The Vikings spent a second-round pick on Gerhart knowing that Peterson, their best offensive asset, was vulnerable to additional punishment and prone to injury given the way he runs with such force. This contingency situation was exactly the kind of insurance they were hoping for with Gerhart.
He held on to the ball, and though his running wasn't pretty, it was effective. Gerhart might never be a special pro, and with Peterson expected to land a long-term deal in the next nine months and remain a Viking for the foreseeable future, the opportunities might not be plentiful. But it's highly encouraging that Gerhart can produce in spots with the team not missing much of a beat. They were able to grind out a victory, and though the strategy changed, the coaching staff adjusted without too much of a hitch.
Gerhart lacks the power and low build of Michael Turner, and he might never run with the same force and effectiveness of Peterson or Peyton Hillis. But Sunday's game showed that Gerhart has some NFL skills that could make him a very strong backup for years to come. He'll just have to show that the fumbling was more of a rookie issue than a chronic concern.