JACKSONVILLE – It sounds strange until it doesn’t.
“I’m looking forward to waking up and being sore again,” he said.
Gerhart, a guest Wednesday on Jaguars.com LIVE!, hasn’t had that feeling much the last four years, but said he expects it next season, when he is expected to be the Jaguars’ starting running back.
“In college, I remember waking up and being like, ‘Gosh – bruises everywhere,’” Gerhart said. “In the last couple of years, it’s been 20 plays a game. I wake up the next morning and I feel fresh.”
That’s not a good feeling for a running back, and it was particularly difficult considering Gerhart’s background.
This was a guy not only used to getting the ball, but being productive with it. Gerhart in 2009 led the FBS in rushing, finishing his senior season at Stanford with 1,871 yards and 28 touchdowns rushing.
He finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting that year to Mark Ingram of Alabama, and was selected in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. He was the 51st player selected overall.
The team that selected him was the Minnesota Vikings, the team of Adrian Peterson, the NFL’s premier back pretty much since Gerhart entered the NFL.
Gerhart (6-feet-0, 200 pounds) started six games in his first four NFL seasons, with five of those starts coming in 2012 when Peterson was out with an injury. He rushed for 1,305 yards and five touchdowns on 276 carries in four seasons, and said while there were countless positives playing with and behind Peterson, the opportunity he now has is one he has been anticipating.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I’ve been working hard to get my body back in shape for that kind of beating and cardio-wise and all that stuff. I’m excited for the opportunity.”
There is theory that a back with fewer carries early in his career perhaps has more years left in his prime because of that. Gerhart said it’s a theory he believes.
“We always use analogies – cars, tires,” he said. “I feel like I’ve got a lot of tread on my tires. I don’t have the mileage, I guess you could say. But I have the experience. I know how the game works. I’m used to the speed. I played a lot of third downs.
“I understand defenses, play-calling, schemes, but I haven’t taken the beating a lot of running backs have, so I feel like I have the experience but I don’t have the wear and tear on my body.”
Gerhart said while he had other opportunities in free agency, including San Francisco, San Diego and Cleveland, players with whom he spoke convinced him that the positive vibes being discussed around Jacksonville were real.
“There’s this energy,” he said. “Everybody I talked to said, ‘Something special’s going on there. You have to see it to believe it.’ (Head) Coach (Gus) Bradley is turning this program around. Someone said, ‘Football after a couple of years wasn’t fun anymore. I got to Jacksonville and I had a whole new perspective on football and I enjoyed it again.’ Those are things I wanted to be a part of.”
Gerhart likely will start next season barring injury, leading a backfield that includes second-year veteran
“That’s a thing I’ve been amazed by,” he said. “In the Minnesota locker room, we had a mix of young and old. Now, every time I talk to somebody, I’m like, ‘What year is it for you?’ ‘This is Year Three. This is Year Four. I’m 23 years old.’ I’m like, ‘Wow, I am the old guy here at 27.’
“As the players become more and more comfortable with me out here with them, I am going to have to be more of a leader. I embrace that role.”
Bradley often with the team uses the phrase “servant leadership,” which is defined as putting needs of others first and performing as highly as possible.
“That’s the type of leader I am,” Gerhart said. “I’m not a rah-rah guy, I’m going to quietly do things the right way, be positive and help others.”
For Gerhart, that means being productive. In his situation in Jacksonville he is expected to get significantly more opportunities with which to do that than in Minnesota.
As for exactly how many carries he needs per game, Gerhart said, “the more the merrier.”
“I’m not going to put a cap on that,” he said, “but I am a guy who’s a bigger back, a more physical back, so the more carries I get I think people would say I get stronger and wear defenses down. Whether that’s 15 or 20, I don’t know what the magic number will be.”
What he said he does know is that he wants to be a back on which the team can rely. Gerhart entering the offseason sat down with running backs coach Terry Richardson and they reviewed potential areas of improvement. Making second-level defenders miss. Being solid in pass protection.
Gerhart said the ultimate objective was clear: to be the rock and the foundation of the Jaguars’ running game.
“That’s the main vision, and that’s what we’re shooting for,” he said.