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Updated: April 23rd, 2010 10:07pm
In Gerhart, Vikings may have found suitable replacement for Taylor

In Gerhart, Vikings may have found suitable replacement for Taylor

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
When Chester Taylor signed with division rival Chicago last month, the Vikings lost one of the best backup running backs in football -- a guy who has potential to start on several NFL teams, including, possibly, the Bears.


Not to mention, a guy who quietly covered-up for Adrian Peterson's flaws in pass protection, pass catching, and ball security.

Forget the 1,871 yards and 27 touchdowns racked up by Vikings' second-round draft pick Toby Gerhart as a Senior running back at Stanford.

Gerhart's path to production in 2010 likely revolves around what he'll be able to provide on third down and in the passing game, which is where Taylor's skill sets trumped Peterson's over the last three years.

"You have to have, first of all, a willingness to block, and he certainly exhibits that," Childress said about Gerhart, who measures at 6'2", 231 pounds. "Then you have to have the technique and the mass or ability to be able to. Everything is not just a scat out of the backfield. Yeah, I think he will be able to do a good job protecting the quarterback.

"He surely has the ability to be able to step up in front of a linebacker and be able to protect just exactly like Chester, and really Albert (Young). The system is the same (as Stanford), his block protection skills are the same, his frame is actually bigger than Chester, and he should be able to do all the check down stuff that Chester did within the system."

After drafting Virginia cornerback Chris Cook in the second round with the 34th overall pick the Vikings traded up with the Houston Texans from pick No. 62 to pick No. 51 to nab Gerhart, who was a Heisman Trophy finalist last season and also posted the top Wonderlic score of all running backs at this year's NFL combine.

In accordance with what Childress said, ESPN Scouts Inc. specifically praised Gerhart's ability to pick up blitzes as well, describing the young running back as a "willing and effective pass blocker (with) good awareness... gets in position and attacks. Stout enough to stop blitzing linebackers in their tracks."

Gerhart says he feels "really comfortable" in pass protection, considering it one of his strong points in college.

"Understanding defenses, understanding safety rotations, body language of blitzers, and just blitz packages and identifying it and picking it up," Gerhart said. "I feel comfortable that I can pick up an offense like that in terms of pass protecting."

Vikings Vice President of Player Personnel Rick Spielman praises Gerhart's pass-catching abilities as well, despite his lack of involvement in Stanford's aerial attack.

"He does have very good hands out of the backfield," Spielman said.

"He didn't catch a lot of balls in college, but he did a great job catching balls when you watch his workouts and you watched him at the combine."

What about fumbling? Peterson has fumbled 16 times over the past two seasons, not including his three bobbles in the NFC Championship Game. The perception of Taylor, whether accurate or not, was that he secured the football better than Peterson.

One media member looked at a stat guide that said Gerhart went through his entire career at Stanford without fumbling, thus prompting a question to head coach Brad Childress about Gerhart's incredible ball security.

Childress sarcastically stared into space and knocked on the wooden podium, before jokingly saying, "That's a curious question, particularly in our situation, wouldn't you say?"

Gerhart later confirmed, via conference call, that the media guide was incorrect. He did indeed fumble approximately six times at Stanford.

Regarding teaming up with Peterson, Gerhart couldn't be more thrilled.

"It's amazing. I remember when I first started college, Adrian Peterson was the man in college and I remember saying, ‘I want to emulate my game after him. I want to be as good as he is.' And now, having an opportunity to go there to play with him, learn under him and complement him is really a huge honor and a dream come true."

Gerhart will also have a chance to work with running backs coach Eric Bieniemy, who actually recruited the young back out of high school when Bieniemy coached at UCLA. Two days before signing day, however, Bieniemy accepted a job with the Vikings, prompting Gerhart to sign with Stanford instead.

"It's kind of ironic that four years later I get a chance to finally work with him," Gerhart said. "I'm really looking forward to it."

The Vikings will hold a rookie mini camp next weekend, and Gerhart will wear number 32.

Time will tell if he can fill the void of number 29.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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