When healthy, Mauti showed efficiency

Michael Mauti has struggled with knee injuries, but when he was on the field for Penn State, he was hard to gain much yardage against, in the passing game and running game.

Michael Mauti has learned to deal with injuries, but in between the rehabilitations and frustrations he managed to display himself as an accomplished leader and football player during his days at Penn State.

Mauti likely would have been drafted much higher than the seventh-round selection he became for the Minnesota Vikings were it not for tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee once and his left knee twice during what was otherwise a promising career with the Nittany Lions.

The latest injury, suffered Nov. 17, 2012, caused him to miss all the last game of the season and left him unable to put together a full workout for NFL scouts before the draft.

Ten days ago, he was at Winter Park for the Vikings' rookie minicamp, where he was mostly an observer but showed an acute interest in everything that was going on in front of him as he witnessed the installation from behind the defense to begin his learning curve.

"I'm learning a lot, taking mental reps," he said after one practice. "It's a lot of information in one day and one weekend. I'm just trying to learn as much as I can and retain it. And then I'll have a lot to study."

Mauti has proved to be astute student, both of the game and in the classroom. He graduated in December 2011 with a degree in Labor and Employment Relations and continues to take graduate courses.

On the field, he was learning mostly middle linebacker with some degree of learning the weakside linebacker spot, too. The Vikings allowed their starting middle linebacker of 2012, Jasper Brinkley, to leave for Arizona via free agency. That leaves an opening at either middle linebacker, where Erin Henderson is expected to get a serious look, or weakside linebacker, Henderson's starting spot for the last two years.

Mauti will have to wait until training camp at the end of July to make a serious push on the field for one of those two linebacker spots, but he showed when he was able to play at Penn State that he can handle the spotlight.

In 39 games played at Penn State, he had only 22 starts, seven at weakside inebacker and 15 on the strong side. But when on the field, he was productive and efficient. In total, he recorded 210 tackles, including 13½ for losses, and 4½ sacks. He also caused four fumbles, recovered one and intercepted four passes he returned for a combined 125 yards.

Of his 210 tackles, he was credited with 133 of those versus the running game, making five touchdown-saving tackles and killing 17 scoring drives (one forced fumble, 14 third-down hits and two fourth-down snaps that came up short). His hits against the running game had opponents averaging only 1.56 yards per carry against him, with just two first downs and no touchdowns. Twelve of those hits versus the run came inside the red zone, including four on goal-line plays.

Before his latest ACL injury, he said he was playing as well as he ever had.

"That's as good as I've felt at any season. That's as healthy as I've ever felt and I feel that's the best that I've ever played," he said. "I'm just looking to carry over that into the next level here and I think these trainers are going to help me get there."

He was nearly as impressive against the pass. His area on the field was targeted 69 times and he yielded only 21 receptions for 126 yards (6.0 yards per pass completion/1.83 yards per attempt), giving up only four first downs and producing 26 third-down stops and six more on fourth down.

Whether it was against the run or the pass, the linebacker who was named to the Butkus Award Watch List before the 2012 season was at the top of his game last year before the injury put a dent in his stock.

"I think just flying to the ball and making plays. Me and Gerald (Hodges, the Vikings' fourth-round pick) especially, we really just had fun and the only way we were having fun was really just making tackles, making big plays, just really getting people fired up and playing with a lot of energy," Mauti said. "That's what is the most fun thing about football. I'm looking to just carry that over here and really bring that energy and help the Vikings win a championship. That's what it's all about."

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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