As a seventh-round draft pick last year, Michael Mauti was trying to buck the odds anyway. Add the continued recovery from a third knee surgery and there was plenty for Mauti to overcome.
This offseason, things have been dramatically different. The linebacker out of Penn State is no longer a rookie and he says the knee pain is in the past.
"At this point, I'm feeling great. This is really the best I've felt in a couple years now. I didn't have rehab in the offseason, so I'm feeling great," Mauti said. "It's more the mental aspect is where I've just got to nail it down and work. That's where I've been spending some extra time in the film room, just getting the defense down. Once that comes, then the rest is I've just got to go out and make plays."
Mauti is far too familiar with the physical limitations that come following a knee surgery. He had three of them in college, so his rookie season with the Minnesota Vikings was as much about physical recovery as it was about mental comprehension.
Now, he says, the explosiveness he once had in his knees is back.
"Without a doubt. Having that whole offseason to train and really get my legs right, not having to rehab one leg and not the other, now I feel more balanced overall and more explosive for sure," Mauti said. "I'm just excited, man. It's the first time in a while, so I'm looking forward to it."
Without tearing his anterior cruciate ligaments three times in college, Mauti might have been a mid-round pick. Instead, the Vikings made his college teammate, Gerald Hodges, their fourth-round pick and waited on Mauti until the seventh round.
He has a year under his belt with the Vikings, but the scheme has changed once again, another too-familiar occurrence for him.
"This is my fourth system in four years. At this point, it's fresh faces in here. Coach (Mike) Zimmer and all of our coaches, they've got a lot of energy so we've been spending a lot of time in the classroom and kind of getting the little details, the wrinkles, in this defense and we're just spending time on it. It will come," he said. "We're getting it down pretty quickly."
So far, Jasper Brinkley has been getting most of the first-team reps at middle linebacker in the base defense, but Mauti could have a chance to compete for that job.
"He's again competing for a spot as a starter or on the team – both," head coach Mike Zimmer said. "He's a smart guy, he's got a tremendous family background with playing football and he's an extremely hard worker, very, very focused on what he's trying to get done and so I'm excited to see him when he gets in here in pads, see him when the bullets are flying a little bit more.
Last year, Mauti's opportunities on defense were extremely limited. He got a couple of snaps there in two games before getting seven snaps in the Seattle game. After being made inactive for the first two games of the season, Mauti played in the last 14 but mostly on special teams, where he played in 53 percent of those snaps. On defense, he played in less than 1 percent of the snaps.
This year, he is aiming to make more of dent on defense, and it's a scheme that he described as "more of a fundamental team defense." He is hoping additional time studying will have him prepared and in position to compete for the starting job.
"Just getting extra time in the film room and slowing things down a little bit," he said, "so I'm not doing so much thinking and more just playing and reacting."
At least this time he is heading into a season without rehabilitation as a main focus.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Mauti feeling ‘more explosive, more balanced'
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