Hodges embraces battle for starting spot

Linebacker Gerald Hodges talked about his mindset after a few rookie practices. The versatile linebacker was ready to begin his quest for a starting spot as a rookie.

Gerald Hodges got his first experience as an NFL player over the weekend. He knows he will be at linebacker. The rest of the questions are open to debate.

The remaining questions are these for the fourth-round rookie of the Minnesota Vikings: Will he play outside or middle linebacker, and will he be a starter?

"My mindset, you know, isn't to come in and be a backup. I do want to play when it comes to September. I want to be out there with that starting lineup," Hodges said after a couple practices at rookie minicamp this weekend.

In college, Hodges made the transition from safety to linebacker and became one of the top strongside linebackers in the game while carving out a leadership role at Penn State during troubled times for the university's football program.

In 2012, Hodges became the 15th player in Nittany Lions history to have back-to-back 100-tackle seasons, and he was only the 11th player to lead to the team in tackles in consecutive seasons.

If the practices open to the media Friday were any indication, it's looking like his first priority at linebacker will be on the weakside, the position that Erin Henderson played the last two years. Henderson is being considered for a move to middle linebacker.

Hodges said his role wasn't defined to him heading into the five weekend practices.

"It's rookie minicamp, so they don't want to tell anybody. The whole objective is to come out here and just learn; learn, learn, learn day in and day out," he said. "In the film room all the way up to how we eat, they want us to learn, learn, learn and just listen. So, that's what I'm going to do, until it comes time to actually suit up and come game time and what they need me to do, I'm going to do it. But like I said, my objective right now is to just come out here and learn as much football as I can, so when the vets get here, I'm not behind, not one bit."

Just as the rookies were leaving town to return to school on Sunday, veterans were gearing up for the second phase of their offseason conditioning program this week. Rookies whose schools have finished their sessions will join the veterans for organized team activities on May 28.

That will be the next indication of what the Vikings plan to do at linebacker. All Henderson, Hodges and others can do until then is expect that the best three linebackers will play.

"That's the case in the NFL. You've got to have your best players on the team because the goal is a championship," Hodges said. "They're going to play the best players, so it's my job to get out here, learn the defensive scheme as fast as I can. I know athletically and talent-wise, I can play the game out here. It's all about learning the system, how fast you can get the system down pat?"

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said there are plenty of options at the two linebacker spots next to cemented strongside starter Chad Greenway. Henderson and Hodges could both play on the weak side or in the middle, and there are the backups from last year – Marvin Mitchell, Audie Cole and Tyrone McKenzie – waiting in the wings. So is Michael Mauti, the seventh-round draft choice this year who was a practice observer this weekend while continuing to rehab a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the third of his career.

The coaches are expected to regroup this week and talk about what they saw from their rookies, and that includes the linebackers.

"We want to take a look at some things in this minicamp, and we'll probably make a decision after we get done, and talk about some things," Frazier said Friday. "But (Hodges) is definitely in that conversation."

Hodges started 26 of 44 games for Penn State at strongside linebacker and had 249 tackles, 21 of those for losses, 5½ sacks, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

His role with the Vikings is yet to be determined, but he's looking to drop a few pounds and be ready for a starting opportunity at one of the linebacker spots by the time the season starts.

"I'll be where I need to be come time to play," he said. "Like I said, I'm excited to get out there and excited every day to get out and learn."

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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