The Jacksonville Jaguars invested themselves heavily in free agent running back Toby Gerhart this offseason. To Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley – former defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks – Gerhart brings a similar presence to that of Seattle’s feature back Marshawn Lynch. After all, the 6-foot, 230 pound running back certainly delivers a smash-mouth mentality, mixed with an explosiveness matched by few others; just like Seattle’s Pro-Bowl back.
While Gerhart was forced to spend much of the last four years on the Minnesota Vikings‘ bench behind Adrian Peterson, Jacksonville is confident that Gerhart can provide a much needed degree of physicality for their offense. To his credit, Gerhart’s college game tape as a Stanford Cardinal is absolutely packed with broken tackles and steam-rolled defenders.
His senior year, Gerhart ran over and around defenses on his way to 1,800+ rushing yards and 28 touchdowns. At the end of the season, he was named a finalist for the prestigious Heisman Trophy, awarded to the Nation’s best player.
Unfortunately, Gerhart failed to win the Heisman that year. However, he did receive the Doak Walker Award for being the Nation’s Best Running Back, as well as the Jim Brown Trophy, Archie Griffin Award and a unanimous selection to the All-American Team. By season’s end, Gerhart’s trophy case had seemingly taken on a life of its own.
Yet, despite the national acclaim and college recognition – not to mention becoming a second-round draft pick – Gerhart enters his fifth year in the NFL as a bit of a question mark. While most teams tend to shy away from running backs with a great deal of carries on their resume during free agency, Gerhart is somewhat different in that he actually has limited tread on his professional tires.
Since amassing a ridiculous 671 carries in college, the former Viking has totaled just 353 total touches (carries plus receptions) as a pro. Gerhart’s best season far-and-away came in 2011, when he had the opportunity to step in for injured starter Peterson for five games. That year – getting 109 of his 276 professional carries – Gerhart totaled 531 rushing yards (4.9 yard per carry) and a touchdown. Additionally, he had 23 receptions for 190 yards and another touchdown through the air.
While it would be another three years before his opportunity to hit free agency, Gerhart’s impressive 2011 performance stayed in the back of coach Bradley’s mind. When the young Jaguars head coach saw an opportunity to acquire the brutish back, he obviously didn’t bat an eye. Early in the 2014 free agency period, Jacksonville signed Gerhart to a three year $10.5 million deal with $4.5 million guaranteed.
So far, Gerhart has absolutely looked the part, and the coaching staff will gladly tell you. All throughout offseason workouts and appearances, Gerhart has had a crazed look of hunger in his eyes. Surely he realizes his time is now, and with a young, up-and-coming Jacksonville team at his back, the former Heisman Trophy Finalist could be in for a breakout year.
The plan is that eventually, Gerhart’s presence in the backfield will be used to ease rookie quarterback Blake Bortles into the starter’s role. Along with rookie wide receivers Marquis Lee and Allen Robinson, Jacksonville has their offensive core of the future in place.
It may be hard to believe, given Coach Bradley’s defensive-minded personality, but the Jaguars’ offense has already improved by leaps and bounds this offseason. With a few intriguing playmakers emerging on the defensive side of the ball as well – such as safety Johnathon Cyprien – Bradley should have plenty of pieces to work with on both sides of the ball this year.
It’s no coincidence that the Jaguars are modeling their entire team after the Seahawks organization. After all, Bradley’s Seattle connection has been talked about regularly in the media since his arrival in Jacksonville. The question amongst NFL fans is how close they are to the defending Super Bowl Champions in terms of talent at this point.
The truth is that Jacksonville is much closer to being a competitor than most think. Their improvement is evident. Therefore, it should probably come as no surprise that Gerhart is in line to become the “Beast Mode” of the East Coast.