Hodges earning recognition with improved play

Gerald Hodges has gotten better with each successive season. Is this the year that Hodges sees a regular role with the Vikings?

Whether you love them, hate them or don’t know who they are, the staff at the website Pro Football Focus is using the offseason to pick out players they believe will be the “Secret Superstar” of every NFL team – a player who may not be in the spotlight yet but is on the verge of being a breakout star.

PFF has chosen linebacker Gerald Hodges as that candidate for the Minnesota Vikings.

Hodges has flown under the radar for casual fans, but Vikings fans got an up close and personal look at what he could accomplish after being a special teams player as a rookie in 2013. As a rookie, Hodges didn’t even record a defensive tackle, but after Anthony Barr went down in the 12th game of the 2014 season and was lost for the remainder of the year, Hodges stepped in and took over his spot.

PFF pointed out that, by its grading system, Hodges was one of the best outside linebackers in the NFL and earned high marks when finally given his opportunity to shine.

According to the rationale for its naming Hodges the Secret Superstar for the Vikings, PFF noted, “An unfortunate knee injury to Anthony Barr in Week 13 handed Hodges another opportunity and this time he excelled. Hodges earned a +7.5 overall grade for the final four weeks of the season, third among 4-3 outside linebackers in that span. He graded average or better in run defense and pass coverage in each game. When all was said and done, Hodges finished the season with the ninth-best overall grade among 40 qualifying 4-3 OLBs, just behind Barr. He ranked sixth and ninth in run defense and coverage, respectively.”

It’s unclear whether PFF’s methodology jibes with that of Mike Zimmer’s coaching staff – some players have denounced how PFF arrives at its grading points – but those who saw Hodges play in the final month of the season can attest that he was playing at a high level. The question now is where does he fit in with the 2015 linebacker pecking order.

Barr is expected to be back to reclaim his outside linebacker spot, as he got increasingly more time last week at minicamp, and it appears as though fellow UCLA teammate Eric Kendricks is doing everything necessary to be a leading contender for the starting middle linebacker spot. And Chad Greenway is likely going to hold down his weakside linebacker spot.

Greenway cut his salary in half to avoid being a salary cap casualty this spring. He is back in what many believe will be his final season. Although Hodges is likely going to be listed as a strongside linebacker on the first depth chart behind Barr, when Greenway went down last year, Hodges took over for him until he returned three weeks later. While Hodges wasn’t dominant in his performance replacing Greenway, he showed marked improvement when he got his next call to duty – perhaps opening the door for more reps at the weakside spot.

Hodges was also used quite a bit in different combinations of linebackers in the nickel defense during organized team activities and minicamp.

This should come as good news for Vikings fans. For the past few years since E.J. Henderson left the team, the Vikings have constantly seemed to be behind the 8-ball at linebacker, putting inexperienced players with marginal talent in the spots and hoping for the best. While Barr, Kendricks and Hodges all very young – a combined three years of NFL experience between them – there is more optimism at the linebacker position than there has been in years. And, better yet, there may be a legitimate competition for a starting spot or nickel reps, which hasn’t happened in a long time.

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