Hodges finds preparation pays off with pick-6

Linebacker Gerald Hodges took Mike Zimmer’s coaching points to heart, studying formations and knowing tendencies that put him in position for a record-breaking touchdown off an interception.

Linebacker Gerald Hodges had one of the best games of his young career against the New York Jets on Sunday while filling in for an injured Anthony Barr. Hodges is in his second year out of Penn State and has played on defense in all but two games of the season – not against the Buffalo Bills or Tampa Bay Buccaneers – but this Sunday may have been his best game of the season.

He was tied for third on the team with eight tackles, recorded two pass breakups and an interception he returned for the first touchdown of his career. The touchdown was the first score of the game and took place only 12 seconds into the game, which made it the fastest defensive score in team history.

“Best play in my life,” Hodges said. “That was my first pick-six ever.

“It was just a great play – you practice how you play and I take a lot of pride in just practicing very fast, very hard, and plays are going to come to you. If you’re on the field just playing fast, doing what you’re supposed to be, in the right spot, plays are going to come to you.”

The touchdown, according to Hodges, was developed before the game even started. It started in practice, putting in the time needed to learn the Jets’ formations so he knew what would be coming next.

“We worked really hard on formations this week,” Hodges said. “That is what Coach (Mike) Zimmer is really hard on, his formations, formations, formations. You get the chance to see the formations so many times that when it comes up in game time you see the formation and you already know what play is coming. You put yourself in position before the ball is even snapped. Knowing the formations and the lineups all week helps a lot.”

Coming into the game, there was some question how Hodges would do filling in for Barr. It was not his first start of the season – he started earlier in the season when Chad Greenway was injured – but it was his first time starting as a strong-side linebacker, as Greenway plays on the weak side.

Even just coming into the game as a reserve it was usually at the weak-side linebacker position, so Hodges did not have much experience with playing the strong side. He was not too worried, though, and thought that he was well-prepared and ready to play the position before the game even started.

“I take a lot of pride in – like I said injuries happen, it’s the NFL. Injuries happen either in practice or game time – so I just take a lot of pride in this year just making sure I know everything,” said Hodges. “Making sure I know the defense, making sure I know what the LBs do, the DBs and the D-Line, so that makes my job much easier.”

That preparation is new to his practice habits this year, as he said last year his head was not all the way into it as it should have been. This year is a different story and he takes a lot of pride in that.

“You practice how you play, and I take a lot of pride in just practicing very fast, very hard, and plays going to come to you,” Hodges said. “If you’re on the field just playing fast, doing what you’re supposed to be, in the right spot, plays going to come to you.”

With a game like he had today it is likely that Zimmer will trust him to take the field more and give guys rest. It could also be the start that allows him to fill in as a starter when needed in the future.

As far as future playing time is concerned, Hodges does not try to think about it. That stuff is all out of his control, and he just wants to focus on the things he can control – like his performances in practice and on the field. He wants to be as ready as he can be, so he can take advantage of every opportunity.

“That’s the only thing at stake, opportunity,” said Hodges. “You only get a few opportunities in this league and when you on the field you need to take advantage of it.”

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