NFL: Vikings’ Hodges excited about first start at MLB
By Chris TomassonSt. Paul Pioneer Presss EDEN PRAIRIE -- Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn calls teammate Gerald Hodges a "mad dog." That sounds like the kind of player Mike Zimmer might want as a starter for his aggressive defense. Zimmer has...
By Chris Tomasson
St. Paul Pioneer Presss
EDEN PRAIRIE - Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn calls teammate Gerald Hodges a “mad dog.” That sounds like the kind of player Mike Zimmer might want as a starter for his aggressive defense.
Zimmer has been looking for a long-term answer at middle linebacker since becoming head coach last year. He started Jasper Brinkley there all 16 games in 2014 but usually took him out on third downs. And now Brinkley is gone.
This preseason, Zimmer has started Audie Cole two games and rookie Eric Kendricks one. It will be Hodges’ turn for the Vikings’ exhibition in Dallas on Saturday night. Hodges played outside linebacker until a month ago.
“He’s a guy who has a lot of acceleration, he’s got some physicality to him, and I just thought it would be good to give him an opportunity and see what it looks like,” Zimmer said Wednesday.
Hodges has provided plenty of energy since the Vikings made him a fourth-round draft pick out of Penn State in 2013. He played sparingly as a rookie before starting seven games at outside linebacker last season, the final four in relief of injured Anthony Barr.
“I think they know I love the game of football, and I think they’re starting to believe and trust in me that I’ll be able to go out there and play top-of-the-line football,” Hodges said.
Barr is healthy now, and so is outside linebacker Chad Greenway, who was replaced by Hodges for three of the four games he missed last season because of injury. So if Zimmer wants to get Hodges a lot of snaps, he has to be creative.
That’s why Zimmer started looking at Hodges at middle linebacker earlier in training camp. Hodges started the first two preseason games on the outside, with Barr still sidelined by a knee injury, before getting a good look in the middle Saturday against Oakland.
“The only challenge is really just the inner challenge,” Hodges said of playing in the middle for the first time in his career. “It’s things such as alignment and things like that, but for the most part me playing the (two outside spots) previously, it all ties together when it comes to the middle linebacker.
“I’m very excited. I can’t wait to get out there.”
It doesn’t take much to get Hodges excited. He is one of the Vikings’ most energetic players. Even when he wasn’t on the field Wednesday, Hodges was doing dance moves from the sideline as music blared during practice.
“I think he’s very crazy,” Munnerlyn said. “You want to have a mad dog.”
Soon, the Vikings will have a better idea on whether Hodges fills the spot at middle linebacker.
Cole doesn’t seem to be the answer, considering he lost the job in the preseason last year to Brinkley and now might be seeing it again slip away.
Kendricks is a candidate to start in the middle, but he is a rookie. Zimmer said he believes Kendricks fits best in the future on the outside, and he is being considered as the eventual replacement for Greenway.
“What (Hodges has) done is he’s improved a lot in a lot of the things he does - in the meeting rooms, in the classroom, in the weight room - and he’s performed well when he’s had a chance to play,” Zimmer said.
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