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Updated: July 22nd, 2012 3:13pm
Toby Gerhart expects 'big role' whether Adrian Peterson returns or not

Toby Gerhart expects 'big role' whether Adrian Peterson returns or not

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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7/22/2012
Toby Gerhart says he thinks Adrian Peterson plays in Week 1
Vikings RB Toby Gerhart joins Tom and Jim just four days before the team reports to training camp in Mankato.
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Toby Gerhart thinks Adrian Peterson will be in uniform for the Minnesota Vikings' season opener, but that doesn't mean Gerhart expects to be a backup out of the gate.

"I'm looking, going into the season, to have a big role," Gerhart told 1500 ESPN's "Sunday Morning SportsTalk" show.

"I don't know how big it will be. But I'm looking like I'm going to be the starter from Day 1 and have to be the starter all the way on through until Adrian is back and ready and full-speed. I'm excited about that. I'm ready to embrace that and go out and help this team win and really show people what I can do."

Peterson suffered a major knee injury on Dec. 24 at Washington. He had reconstruction surgery for torn anterior cruciate and medical collateral ligaments six days later.

All indications are Peterson will open training camp this week on the active/physically unable to perform list and would be limited in the early going if he meets his goal of playing in the Sept. 9 opener against Jacksonville, less than 8½ months out from surgery.

"I think he will (play in the opener)," Gerhart said. "You can never be surprised with Adrian. The way he comes to work every day, the way he pushes himself -- he was flying around, straight-line speed, moving out there, racing Percy up the hill, doing conditioning stuff.

"I haven't seen him in a couple weeks now, but I'm sure he's continued to make leaps and bounds in progress, and I wouldn't be surprised if he's ready. You can never count Adrian out."

'Stronger and quicker'

The knee injury and a high ankle sprain cost Peterson all or part of six games last season. In those six games, Gerhart rushed for 419 yards on 83 carries (5.0 average), supporting scouts' belief he gets better the more he touches the ball.

Gerhart said his weight remains about the same (230 to 235 pounds) even though he appeared bigger during offseason practices. That's a result, Gerhart said, of focusing more attention on sculpting his arms to hold onto the ball, fight defenders off his legs and (perhaps half-kidding) look more chiseled in the NFL's new uniforms.

"Overall, I feel stronger and quicker," Gerhart said. "I feel like my body's really transformed and changed for the better."

Though it's the second season in coordinator Bill Musgrave's scheme, it's the first time the Vikings have an offseason to hone the concepts, thanks to the lockout that wiped out all summer work a year ago. Gerhart pointed to upgrades along the line as another factor that could make the Vikings "even better" in the running game in 2012.

"This offense is definitely evolving," Gerhart said. "We're getting deeper. I know from a quarterback's perspective, the progressions are getting a little harder, getting a little more detailed. The run game, we're actually tweaking some things that I think are really going to help us.

"We really emphasized working on just key situations -- first and second down throwing the ball, third down running the ball -- just different things, different nuances in the game that we didn't have time to get into and practice a whole lot last year. I really think people are becoming more comfortable with the system, and as a result, we're going to put up more points."

'We're going to be underestimated'

The Vikings finished 19th last season in scoring (21.3 points per game) and 18th in total offense (329.7 net yards per game), buoyed mainly by the NFL's fourth-ranking running game (144.9 yards per game).

They finished 3-13 after going 6-10 in Gerhart's rookie year of 2010 and will enter this season with one of the league's youngest rosters.

"Yes, we're young, but this offseason we've really grown close as a tight-knit team," Gerhart said. "I feel like everybody's got each others' back. We've got that camaraderie going that I think is really going to help us.

"It's not necessarily the most talented team wins the Super Bowl every year. I think that we're going to be underestimated, we're going to be underdogs, we're going to have that little chip on our shoulder to come out and try to prove people wrong, and I think because of that, because of the resiliency of the guys, we're going to come out and surprise some people.

"Our defense is doing some new things with the new defensive coordinator there, second year in our offense. I think we're going to come out and surprise some people."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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In this story: Toby Gerhart, Adrian Peterson
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