Gerald Hodges looks like the latest contestant on the Minnesota Vikings’ preseason casting call for middle linebacker.
In the first two preseason games, veteran Audie Cole got the start at middle linebacker. Against the Oakland Raider on Saturday, it was rookie Eric Kendricks starting and getting 20 snaps at the position. Head coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t willing to say Monday morning who would start this Saturday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys because he hadn’t informed his players.
A few hours later, it looked and sounded like the job – for this week, at least – would go to Gerald Hodges.
“I’m thinking that’s what the coaches, I guess that’s how they set it up this week,” Hodges said after taking the majority of snaps at middle linebacker in the base first-team defense. “I don’t know what’s going on. I just go in there when they tell me to go in there. I try to go in there and just play good football.”
Hodges started getting some reps at middle linebacker a few weeks ago and has slowly been inserted there with increased frequency as coaches want a fair review of their top three candidates to take over the position at the start of the regular season.
Hodges said the Oakland game was the first time he was “full-time” at middle linebacker, but that came with the second-team defense. Cole was the third middle linebacker on the field and he got 26 snaps. At this point, the Vikings are still very much examining their options for the regular season while Hodges is becoming more accustomed to the position. Recognizing the alignments, he said, is the biggest adjustment compared to the two outside linebacker positions.
“Usually when you’re playing the Sam or the Will, you only got one set of alignments for that down, but Mike backer, things change up as motions, formations change, you’ve got different alignments,” he said. “So just getting that down pat, but everything’s coming along great. I’m just looking forward to continuing to get better.”
Zimmer, defensive coordinator George Edwards, General Manager Rick Spielman and linebackers coach Adam Zimmer reviewed all the preseason tape of the middle linebackers on Sunday.
“I think he did good,” Zimmer said of rookie Kendricks. “… (We) watched every play, just to kind of get a gauge, make sure we’re all seeing the same thing with where we are at - I mean, throughout the whole course of the preseason. As far as the other night, he fitted one thing wrong and then they got basically the same play again later and he got it right after we corrected him on the sideline, but for the most part he did alright.”
The Dallas game is expected to be the most extensive action for the Vikings’ starters, and it appears Hodges will get his shot at middle linebacker with the first-team defense if Monday’s practice was any indication.
Communication is one of the keys at the position, as that player is tagged with the responsibility of making the on-field calls relayed from the sideline.
“I feel that’s starting to become second nature to me as well,” Hodges said. “That definitely helps on the field as well. People don’t know how much communication actually helps, but that definitely helps a lot, especially coming from fellow linebackers on the side.”
Hodges has played all three linebacker positions throughout the preseason, but he said the offensive keys he reads don’t change too much from one linebacker spot to the next.
“If the lineman is down and coming forward, it’s run. If the linemen are popped up, it’s pass,” he said. “It’s a simple read and the quicker you get it down pat, the faster you can play.”
At this point, it appears all three candidates – Hodges, Kendricks and Cole – still have a shot to earn the spot. And, as Zimmer said, if the starter in the first regular season game on Sept. 14 doesn’t play well, he can be benched in favor of the other options.
“You’ve got to pay attention to detail as far as running and passing because you’ve got to get a good read,” Hodges said. “One step slow can cost you.”
Hodges looking like the next option
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