Gerhart doesn’t have much wear and tear on his body after spending the first four years of his career backing up Adrian Peterson in Minnesota -- just 276 carries and 77 receptions. But that also means he hasn’t had to carry an offense and there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to do that in Jacksonville.
Yet coach Gus Bradley doesn’t view the signing as risky.
"We watched his college tape and then we watched his reps that he did get [in Minnesota], that’s really what we’re basing it off of," Bradley said. "And then talking to people that have been with him as a teammate, all those things came together and said, 'Wow this is really clean. This is a great opportunity to get a guy in our locker room that we believe can help us.'
"You still have to do it, but I think he’s really looking forward to the opportunity. I think he’s been waiting for this opportunity and he wants to take advantage of it."
Gerhart has been waiting, and pretty patiently, too. Getting drafted in the second round by the Vikings in 2010 wasn’t an ideal situation for Gerhart, who ran for 3,522 yards and 44 touchdowns in his career at Stanford, including a senior season in which he ran for 1,871 yards and 28 touchdowns. He went from being a workhorse to feeling as if he were locked in the barn.
He got 81 carries as a rookie and 109 the following season but totaled just 86 in the last two seasons.
Gerhart said that while he obviously wanted to play more he used the time to learn from one of the NFL’s greatest running backs and treated things the same way as a young quarterback sitting behind a veteran starter.
“It’s been an opportunity to get experience over the years and also learn,” Gerhart said. “I’ve stayed fresh, stayed strong and healthy, and I’m ready for my shot now.”
The encouraging thing is that Gerhart has been productive in the limited work he has gotten, averaging 4.7 yards per carry and 7.8 yards per catch. That works out to 5.4 yards per touch on offense, which is similar to the 5.1 yards-per-touch that Maurice Jones-Drew averaged in his eight seasons with the Jaguars. That included three consecutive seasons of at least 1,300 yards rushing, including an NFL-best 1,606 in 2011.
Replacing Jones-Drew, now in Oakland, isn’t going to fall completely to Gerhart. Second-year back Jordan Todman will get a lot of work, and Bradley is optimistic about Denard Robinson being able to hold onto the ball and contribute. The team needs a feature back, though, and the hope is that it’s Gerhart.
He understands if people aren’t sure he can do it, but he’s sure they won’t have doubts for long.
"There’s always a prove-yourself situation, especially coming in to a team," Gerhart said. "I was one of the first running backs signed in free agency. Coming in where Maurice was, there’s definitely going to be that added pressure to prove yourself.
"I haven’t had the opportunity to play a full 16 games as a starters so I think a lot of people are going to wait and see before the jury’s out on me. I’m excited about that and ready to show what I can do."