PFW chatted this week with Vikings RB Toby Gerhart, coming off his 22-carry, 76-yard game against the Redskins. We asked him five questions — plus a bonus sixth — about his season to date.
PFW: Let's go back to training camp for a minute. I know you had a few minor scuffles with veterans in practices. What was that all about?
Gerhart: I don’t know. I think (it was because) I was a rookie coming in, I was proud, I was known as a physical runner, so they were going to test it. They definitely tested me early and tested me often. But it’s football — that’s what you expect. I think, in the end, I got their respect as a result of it.
PFW: Did you appreciate the fact they wanted to test you and see what you were made of? Maybe not right away, but eventually?
Gerhart: Yeah, definitely. At the time I didn’t. I was like, ‘What’s going on? Are they trying to hit me (extra hard) every time I get the ball?’ But I talked with some of the veteran linebackers during camp, went out to lunch with them, and they said, ‘Keep your head up. You’re doing well.’ It’s not necessarily a bad thing that people are picking on you. They want to see how you are and know you’re going to be a guy who is around here and with us and see how you respond.
PFW: What was the toughest thing for you to pick up initially? A lot of young running backs will say it’s the pass protection that’s the biggest adjustment in the pros.
Gerhart: I’d have to agree that the biggest thing was the blitz pickup. It wasn’t necessarily the physical aspect. It was more of the mental aspect. The protections were actually very similar to, if not almost exactly the same as how we ran them at Stanford. But just the on-the-fly changes that happen … it’s hard to describe, but the quarterback can make a call, the center can point, the tackle can point and it can completely change the protection. A half a second before the snap I can go from blocking one linebacker to completely (switching) and blocking someone on the other side of the field. So just getting on the same page as the offensive line and quarterback and being able to react on the fly was the most difficult thing to pick up. It’s got to be instantaneous. And now, I can see on the same page as them. I see, as I am walking out of the huddle, with the original protection I might be responsible for the weakside ’backer, but I can see the linemen right away and I know that they are going to slide to (the linebacker) or protect him, and I am going to automatically shift over. Just anticipating what they are going to call or what they are going to point out has been big, so I am not (saying), ‘OK, now who do I have?’ Now I feel like I am one step ahead of, or on the same page as, them.
PFW: The role you were slated for at first seemed to be different from what you were asked to do in college. Is it harder to be productive on a play-to-play basis when you are not getting 20-25 touches and 60-plus snaps a game?
Gerhart: Definitely. I had come from Stanford, where I’d play 65 out of the 70 (offensive snaps) in the game and I would have 20-to-35 carries. Now I am playing 20 plays a game and anywhere from one-to-five carries. So it was definitely something different, something difficult. The thing I realized is that I have to make the most of the opportunities I am given there. I know I have to earn the coaches’ trust one play at a time.
PFW: You have had two fumbles through the midpoint of the season. That wasn’t something you were known for at Stanford. How frustrating was that?
Gerhart: Yeah, I had a fumble in my second game of the season and one of my first carries. It was a (short) gain, and as I went down the safety came in and put his helmet on the ball and knocked it out. That’s like the No. 1 sin as a running back, the quickest way to find your way on the bench, especially in that situation where my opportunities were limited. That was a difficult time and I just took real caution to protect the ball. Everything went well for, shoot, the next eight weeks. And then (two weeks ago) I caught a pass across the middle, big third-down conversion, and as I was cutting back to the left, (the defender) comes in and swipes it. And it just kind of … (laughs) set me back. Confidence-wise, it was eight weeks in a row without (fumbling), I was getting more and more of a role, more plays in the game, and it was high. But after that, my confidence took a hit. You don’t want to put the ball on the ground ever. But stuff happens and I have learned from that. Especially in the open field when you make the moves you have to keep the ball tighter. In the NFL everybody is swiping at the ball. It’s different in college, where they tackle you, but in the NFL they are trying to go for the ball as well.
PFW: When you were able to come in against the Redskins and get those 20-plus touches, how different was it considering you probably hadn’t been hit that much in a game since preseason?
Gerhart: Initially I still wasn’t sure what happened with Adrian (Peterson). I didn’t know if I was going to be in there one or two plays, or one series while he was getting it re-taped or what. I wasn’t trying to do anything special. I was just trying to do what I do: make my reads, finish runs going hard. As the game progressed and they decided Adrian wasn’t going to come back in, I feel like I really did start to get into a little rhythm, instead of having one carry, sit out a couple series, come back in for another carry. I was getting a feel for the game. It was nice. I enjoyed it. I was happy to help the team get a win and play pretty well.