JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) At the end of practice Saturday, Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley screamed running back Toby Gerhart’s name, summoning him to break down the team huddle.
It was recognition for how well Gerhart performed during the first two days of training camp.
Teammates chanted ”speech, speech” as Gerhart took center stage. Anyone expecting a grand statement surely walked away disappointed.
”Good work today; keep stacking the days together,” Gerhart told teammates and coaches.
In time, Gerhart might get more comfortable in a lead role. He certainly will get the chance in Jacksonville, which plans to get him 15 to 20 carries a game this season.
It’s a welcome change for a guy who spent the past four seasons as Adrian Peterson’s backup in Minnesota.
”It’s definitely exciting,” Gerhart said. ”The more the merrier. I’ll take as many carries as they’ll give me. I’m ready to carry the load. It’s been a few years since I’ve had that amount of carries consistently. I’m excited for the opportunity.”
A second-round pick in 2010, Gerhart played in 61 games with six starts for the Vikings. He had a modest 276 carries for 1,305 yards (4.7 yards a carry) and five touchdowns. He also had 77 receptions for 600 yards and three scores.
Now, though, he will be the unquestioned starter in Jacksonville.
Although the Jaguars want to get second-year player Denard Robinson and journeyman Jordan Todman involved in the ground game, they plan to keep Gerhart as involved as his predecessor, Maurice Jones-Drew.
The Jaguars parted ways with Jones-Drew after eight seasons, opting to move on from a 29-year-old running back who totaled 8,071 yards rushing, 2,873 yards receiving, 2,187 yards in returns and scored 93 touchdowns.
Jones-Drew clearly had lost his breakaway speed after two significant injuries in recent years.
General manager Dave Caldwell believes Gerhart’s best football is in front of him.
”He’s been the workhorse before, just not at this level,” Caldwell said. ”He’s built for it. He’s 235-plus (pounds), has a great frame, great muscle, great condition. The best thing about Toby is he’s got excellent hands, too, catching the ball out of the backfield, and his pass protection.
”I don’t think there’s much room for concern with him being the workhorse because he’s got the stature and he’s built for it.”
Gerhart and Jones-Drew are much different, too.
Not only is Gerhart much quieter than the always-outspoken Jones-Drew, he’s bigger, faster and younger – all potential positives for the rebuilding Jaguars.
”That’s just not my personality,” Gerhart said. ”I’ve always been shy, low key. I try to do things the right way and lead by example. I’m not a guy that’s going to go out there and pump my chest and scream and jump around. I’m going to go out there and work hard, be productive and act like I’ve been there before.”
Indeed, Gerhart was a low-key star at Stanford. While the NFL is quite different, the Jaguars believe Gerhart might provide some big-play ability for an offense in desperate need of playmakers.
”I think he’s got the ability to hit home runs, yeah,” Caldwell said. ”He might not be a 60 home-run hitter, but he might have 20 to 25. He might not be Mark McGwire, but he’ll be OK.”
Jacksonville revamped its offensive line in front of Gerhart, moving 2013 first-round draft pick Luke Joeckel to left tackle and signing veteran guard Zane Beadles to play next to him. The Jags also drafted guard Brandon Linder in the third round.
Gerhart, meanwhile, has been one of the team’s most consistent players during the offseason and through the first two days of camp. And Bradley said he’s just getting started.
”I think when you get the pads on, we’ll see how much of a jump he’s made,” Bradley said.
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