Toby Gerhart gives Vikings 1-2 punch at running back

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — For one game, Toby Gerhart reminded people what he’s capable of, a sight rarely seen since the former Heisman Trophy runner-up has been in the NFL.

Gerhart only had eight carries in the Minnesota Vikings’ tie at Green Bay on Sunday and still finished with the most rushing yards he’s had in a game since he took over for Adrian Peterson in Week 16 of the 2011 season, the day Peterson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

With eight carries for 91 yards on Sunday, Gerhart resembled the pounding, big-play back he was at Stanford when he led the nation with 343 carries, 1,871 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns as a senior in 2009 and was named an all-American and Heisman runner-up.

“It was one game, who knows?,” Gerhart said Wednesday, downplaying whether Sunday’s game could earn him more money in free agency next season. “Hopefully. People are saying it was reminiscent of flashbacks to Stanford and stuff. That’s my type of running and that’s how I play, and I was happy to get out there and put a couple of good plays together.”

Sunday’s performance could well lead to more opportunities for Gerhart, who has been stuck behind Peterson his four seasons in Minnesota, which made him a second-round pick in 2009. Coach Leslie Frazier said the team wants to make a more concerted effort to utilize Gerhart.

Peterson still paced the Vikings’ best rushing game of the season on Sunday with 32 carries for 146 yards. But Gerhart came through with several big plays in averaging 11.4 yards per carry as Minnesota ran for a season-high 232 yards.

Peterson missed practice on Wednesday as he continues to deal with a groin injury. Peterson has played through the injury and Gerhart has emerged with 158 yards rushing over the past two weeks. Up next for Minnesota is Chicago’s 32nd-ranked run defense and Gerhart believes the Vikings found something with the running game on Sunday at Green Bay.

“Yeah, I think we finally played a complete game as an offensive line in terms of running the ball,” Gerhart said. “I think they played physical and moved them off the ball. Jerome (Felton) blocked well, receivers were blocking on the edges; it was a good run game for us. Adrian put it where it’s supposed to be. I put it where it’s supposed to be and we got some yards.”

Frazier also praised the work of the offensive line, which has been maligned with the Vikings’ run game unable to find the same success it did last season as Peterson ran for the second-most, single-season yards in NFL history.

“We’ve had some good rushing days against their defense, but the offensive line really came together on that day,” Frazier said. “Adrian was having great runs for us, and then Toby comes in, gives us a lift as well in the run game. But our offensive line did a good job of knocking them off the ball. We had some good matchups up front. I thought our tight ends, (like) John Carlson, did a good job. It helped to have Rhett (Ellison) back. He’s probably as close to 100 percent as he’s been all season long, so that helped, as well. It was good timing for us.”

Timing couldn’t be any better with the Bears up next at the Metrodome. Chicago’s defense has been riddled with injuries and has allowed 145.2 rushing yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry this season. St. Louis ran for 258 yards and three touchdowns against the Bears in a 42-21 win last week.

“I just think we need to continue and build on what we had last game,” Gerhart said. “You know, Viking football begins and ends with our running game. Hopefully, you know, we have a good scheme going in here, get to execute it at practice this afternoon and get working and establish that run again and moved the ball down the field.”

For Gerhart, his effectiveness comes with the more carries he’s able to get.

“Definitely, obviously I’m a bigger running back and I’m more of a downhill guy,” Gerhart said. “So, I wear a defense down. I get in a rhythm as you get multiple carries. It’s harder for me to come in, get one carry in the first, one carry in the fourth to really show what I can do because I’m not this scat, kind of break it 80 yards every time I touch the ball. So, definitely a ground them out and get better as the carries come along.”

Gerhart is a free agent at the end of this season. He likely will have a chance next season to sign somewhere he will be more involved. In four NFL seasons, Gerhart’s had just 259 carries backing up Peterson.

“It’s definitely rough,” Gerhart said of the situation. “As a running back and competitor, you want to get those touches and be on the field. But when you’re in a system behind Adrian Peterson, one of the greatest to ever play the game, last year’s MVP, it’s tough to see the field, especially a machine like him that doesn’t get tired. It can be frustrating, but at the same time, it’s been rewarding to work with him, learn from him. When my number’s called (I) just try to make the most of it.”

Ponder wasn’t sure what to expect: Quarterback Christian Ponder will receive his sixth straight start on Sunday, seemingly bringing a bit of stability to the quarterback position. But Ponder said Wednesday he wasn’t sure what to expect when the team signed Josh Freeman in October.

“I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, if I was going to walk in that next day and have a pink slip in my locker or what,” Ponder said. “It was an interesting time and (I) was able to stay focused on what I had to do and fortunately it was able to swing back and I’m out there playing.”

Frazier committed to Ponder immediately this week, stating after Sunday’s game Ponder would continue to start after going 21 of 30 for 233 yards passing last week without any turnovers.

“When I looked at his performance after watching it on tape,” Frazier said. “I felt pretty good when we get on the plane going back from Green Bay about his performance, and you look at it on tape he did a lot of good things that you’d like to see him just keep building on. So he gets another chance to do that against a good football team. But the consistent play, that’s what we’re always looking for. He’s had a good game; put together another good game like that. But no second-guessing about playing him. He earned it, the way he played. He played very, very well.”

Rhodes, Webb still going through concussion testing: Rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes and receiver Joe Webb suffered concussions in last week’s game. Rhodes watched portions of Wednesday’s practice, but neither player has passed the league-mandated concussion testing and were held out of practice on Wednesday.

Frazier said Rhodes and Webb have passed part of the testing protocol.

“We’re encouraged by some of the results we got yesterday afternoon, but there are still some things they have to go through today, and if they can pass today we have a chance to maybe get them on the practice field tomorrow,” Frazier said.

Defensive tackle Kevin Williams was listed as limited on the team’s injury report with a quadriceps injury.

Safety Harrison Smith, on injured reserve with the designation to return, didn’t return to practice as expected on Wednesday. Frazier said the timing was in regard to when the team placed him on injured reserve.

“He’s not going to be participating until Friday,” Frazier said. “When we put him on, it coincides with this coming Friday before he can have his first day on the practice field, not Wednesday like we were hoping.”

Walsh named special teams player of the week:
Vikings kicker Blair Walsh was named the NFC special teams player of the week on Wednesday after going 4 of 4 on field-goal attempts, including a 35-yarder in overtime to keep the game tied.

Walsh is the second Minnesota player to win the award this season. Rookie kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson won the award in Week 8. The honor is the fourth time Walsh has won the award.

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