Linebacker Gerald Hodges has slowly been working his way up the ladder.
Hodges – the former fourth-round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings and the first player chosen in 2013 after the team traded second- and third-round picks to move up and take Cordarrelle Patterson – is feeling good about his knowledge of Mike Zimmer’s defense in the second season of installation.
“I feel very, very, very confident with it. Last year, just the new defense, you’re still getting acclimated to a lot of things,” Hodges said. “Throughout the offseason, we’ve been up here for OTAs and things like; I feel real confident with it. I feel like I’m able to anticipate a lot of stuff from the offense, certain coverages, certain alignments and things like that that I feel consistent with it.”
As a rookie in former head coach Leslie Frazier’s defense, Hodges played only two defensive snaps. Last year, that increased substantially, to 503 snaps, or nearly 47 percent of the time on defense.
Still, last year was mostly information overload on learning the defense and filling in for injured starters. Hodges started three games for Chad Greenway and the final four games for Anthony Barr when he was injured and eventually placed on season-ending injured reserve.
That meant Hodges had to know the weakside position while subbing for Greenway and the strong side at the end of the season for Barr. He performed well in both situations, ranking ninth overall among outside linebackers, according to Pro Football Focus, one spot behind Barr and 29 spots ahead of Greenway.
But with a year in the system and the defense becoming more familiar to him, the next step is having that become second nature and concentrating on diagnosing the opposing offense and what checks might be most effective against it.
“That’s the main part,” he said. “I feel the more I get more comfortable – there’s guys that have been in Coach Zimmer’s defense for a while that are still getting comfortable; there’s something new he adds to it every day. So the more I get comfortable with it, the more confident I get with it, the faster I’ll be able to diagnose plays and make plays.”
According to coaches’ film review, Hodges was seventh on the team with 53 tackles, including four for a loss, and added seven passes defensed, one interception, three quarterback hits and shared a sack.
Like many of the linebackers, Hodges was used in various roles with both the first- and second-team defense during offseason practices. The coaches asked linebackers to know all the positions and that came into play last year when Hodges was inserted on both the strong side and weak side and played in the nickel defense.
“You never know. You never know what coaches and them have up their sleeve as far as schemes and things like that,” he said. “But Coach Zim, I’m pretty sure he’ll do the best to get the best players on the field and that’s all that matters. As long as all the best players are on the field, just go out there and win.
“They’re moving everybody around, seeing how everyone plays with each other. Nothing is set in stone. We’re all coming out here to compete and let the coaches make the decision. Put the best guys on the field, as always.”
This year, he at least has a chance to be among the “best guys” after increased exposure in his second season in the NFL and the first in Zimmer’s defense.
Hodges feeling confident in Zim’s defense
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