Jacksonville Jaguars: Toby Gerhart worth keeping an eye on?


The Jacksonville Jaguars spent a high second-round pick on former Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon for good reason, and he is seemingly locked in as the team’s unquestioned feature back. Yeldon looks every bit the impact player the Jaguars envisioned when they took him off the board with the 36th overall pick in this year’s draft, making him the first player at the position off of the board after the obvious top two of Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon.

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But while Yeldon looks set to be the team’s lead back, it’s unclear just how the rest of the Jaguars RBs fall in the pecking order. Even with Julius Thomas, Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee, and Allen Hurns forming a strong nucleus of pass-catchers around second-year UCF signal-caller Blake Bortles, the Jags figure to run the ball heavily as yet another way of taking pressure off of their young QB, who showed steady improvement after some dreadful performances early in his rookie year.

Young speed back Denard Robinson has been tabbed as the change-of-pace guy behind Yeldon after a promising 2014 season as the team’s main back, as he managed to overcome some subpar blocking to produce a 4.3 yards per carry average in his second season with the Jaguars. Robinson’s emergence as a slippery threat on the ground was made all the important by offseason signing Toby Gerhart‘s flop in his first season out of Adrian Peterson‘s spotlight, as the three-year, $10.5 million man grounded out a dreadful 3.2 yards per carry.

Gerhart, who might also have to worry about former Baltimore Ravens Bernard Pierce as a flier guy with something to prove after back-to-back poor seasons following a promising 2012 campaign that put him on the map as a rookie, has been pushed down on the Jaguars depth chart in the eyes of money.

However, we now have some reason to believe that the 28-year-old could have a bounce-back season in store in 2015, because he recently received a positive review at OTAs from a trusted beat writer. According to ESPN’s Michael DiRocco, the former Minnesota Vikings back surprised in a positive way, as Gerhart, per DiRocco, “looks like he did before he got hurt in the season opener last year”. DiRocco also believes that Gerhart is a better fit in new offensive coordinator Greg Olson’s offense, and this observation is also based off of conversations the beat writer has had with Gerhart.

As always, it’s important to have a very measured reaction to any offseason news, but it isn’t unrealistic to expect a significantly better 2015 season from Gerhart, who averaged 4.9 yards per carry the first time he received over 100 carries in a year. That was back in 2011, but it’s not like the big back has received too much wear-and-tear over his career.

Of course, an injury has been named as a big reason for Gerhart’s poor performance last season, so it’s important to hear DiRocco state that Gerhart’s return to health is a notably positive development. The more favorable scheme might be more intriguing, but it’s fair to wonder if Toby Gerhart will receive enough opportunities to impress this upcoming season.

Although the Jaguars aren’t going to run Yeldon into the ground as a rookie, it’s fair to assume that the Alabama product will flirt with 300 total touches when you factor in his work in the passing game, as he’s a good enough blocker and pass-catcher to be the team’s clear three-down RB. And with Robinson deserving of touches due to his athletic ability and solid play last season, it’s unclear just how many carries will be left over for Gerhart.

Dec 18, 2014; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars running back Toby Gerhart (21) against the Tennessee Titans during the second quarter at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

That said, it’s great to hear that the veteran back is doing better this offseason, and hopefully the positive reviews will continue in training camp.

Since the Jacksonville Jaguars are using an offensive set-up with inside zone runs that, per DiRocco, favors Gerhart’s style more, it’s clear that he’ll have some sort of a role if he continues to perform well in the offseason and when the games start to count.

Will he receive more carries than Robinson, though? That’s something worth watching, because Gerhart does have the talent to make an impact if he’s healthy, playing to his potential, and used in a manner that suits him.

Of course, I’m not really expecting anything significant from him this upcoming season, but it’s good to hear that there’s a possibility he could be a notable contributor for the Jaguars offense.

Next: Allen Robinson ready to break out?

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