Vikings visited with oft-injured linebacker

The Vikings visited informally at the NFL Combine with a linebacker who struggled with injuries in college.

The Minnesota Vikings were busy over the last week talking to numerous linebackers at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Head coach Mike Zimmer said he was excited to show his current players all the reasons they were 7-9 after Zimmer finished his self-scout. But one of the prospects the Vikings have visited with this week in Indianapolis, linebacker Jordan Hicks, can relate to frustrating seasons. He experienced them, both personally and as a team, during his five years at Texas.

“We were a couple minutes away from winning the Big 12 two years ago. That type of thing will change your entire perspective on a lot of things. It’s not that I sit there and regret and sulk on my decision. I love the university. I’ve learned so things through the University of Texas,” Hicks said. “I went through so many ups and downs and figured out more about myself than I have anywhere else at any point in time in my life, and those are things they can’t take away from me. Wins and losses, OK, yeah, but I learned a lot about myself and I would never change my decision going back. But at the same time, yeah, it sucks to have to get there and go 5-7 and then finish off your career going 6-7. That is very, very, very frustrating.”

Hicks met with the Vikings informally at the Combine and told his prospective NFL teams all about why the Longhorns weren’t able to win consistently during his time there, and trying to stay on the field is a big part of his story.

He missed the last nine games of the 2013 season due to a torn Achilles tendon and sat out 10 contests in 2012 due to a suspension and hip injury. He managed 40 tackles in four contests before being sidelined his junior year, but returned to start every game at weakside outside linebacker last year, being named All-American second-team and Academic All-American. He recorded 147 tackles, tied for seventh-best in school history, and intercepted two passes, had 3.5 sacks and 13 tackles-for-loss.

Hicks lists Luke Kuechly as the linebacker he admires, but admits he has facets of his own game that need improving.

“I think we’re on the same page with what I need to get better at – using my hands, playing off of contact, continuing to just get better at the fundamentals of being a linebacker,” he said of his talks with NFL scouts and coaches. “I think they also believe I have great instincts and I’m able to get to the ball.”

So does Scout.com NFL draft analyst Dave-Te’ Thomas.

“This is a player that puts every ounce of effort and strength behind his frame to plug the gaps,” Thomas wrote in his analysis of Hicks. “He is quick to locate the ball working inside and will hold his ground firmly at the point of attack to make negative-yardage tackles. He also shows the burst and speed to close and cut off the ball carrier on the outside.”

Hicks said weakside is his best spot in the linebacker corps and has played in both 4-3 and 3-4 defensive schemes. He’s also played for four different defensive coordinators and four different linebackers coaches in five years at Texas. But instead of lamenting the turnover, he now counts it as a blessing to make a more well-rounded and versatile prospect.

“This is a player with a very good nose for the ball. He plays on his feet with good ward-off and shed ability,” Thomas wrote in his analysis of Hicks. “He shows the strength, aggressiveness and quickness to make plays in pursuit. He is very powerful when engaging blockers, using his hand swipes with force to shed blocks and create separation. He is a solid and aggressive tackler with wrap-up ability. He is even more powerful vs. plays in front of him than on the move (will revert to arm tackles then). From the statistical standpoint, he will generally get negative yardage when meeting ball carriers at the line, as he drives hard with his legs and takes good arm extension to wrap and push the opponent back through the hole.”

He definitely has NFL potential, but he will need to stay healthy – something that proved difficult for him at Texas – in order for the 6-foot-1, 236-pounder to be a reliable backer.

“After the first injury, I thought I’m going to come back, I’m going to ball out my next year and senior year I’m going to try and get it and take off. I had a great mentality coming off that first (injury),” Hicks said. “And then I came back and had two in a row. I don’t know if it was a matter of me questioning whether I’m going to make it or not because I always believed if I stay healthy I can prove my ability. Going through that, you’re like, man, what’s wrong with me? You start to question, what am I doing wrong? I did everything right going into that year because I wasn’t going to chance getting injured again and you just realize that a lot of things are out of your control. I’ve learned so much from my entire experience at the University of Texas.”

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