EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. Gerald Hodges has spent much of his time since being drafted by the Minnesota Vikings at the team's facilities, working out as part of the team's conditioning program.
Hodges, drafted in the fourth round, has been getting to know his new teammates, but there is one meeting he has been looking forward to the most. It's one meeting, maybe collision, that won't happen until well into this summer, maybe even as late as training camp.
Hodges, the Penn State linebacker trying to prove he can earn a starting assignment in his rookie year, has been looking forward to going up against MVP running back Adrian Peterson.
"He's one of the greatest running backs, so I'm excited," Hodges said during the team's rookie minicamp earlier this month. "I'm excited to get ready to go. I could play football. He could play football. So I'm ready to go. Not taking anything away from him, obviously, but I'm ready to just play football. He's an NFL running back, so my job is to tackle NFL running backs. So that's what I've got to do when it comes time."
Hodges will get his chances at Peterson later in practices. He gets his chance to show he can start at outside linebacker as a rookie beginning this week when Minnesota kicks off its organized team activities. The confidence and enthusiasm Hodges has to face off against Peterson doesn't come as a shock to the Vikings who know Hodges. It's what general manager Rick Spielman and the team's scouts and coaches saw in the 6-foot-2, 233-pound linebacker.
Michael Mauti, Hodges' college teammate and fellow Minnesota draft pick, knows Hodges well and understands his zest for facing the best.
"He's just energetic," Mauti said. "He's a fast-twitch guy. He's going to get in his books and learn this thing. He's competing for a starting spot too. So we're all out here competing and making each other better. He's going to be a great addition to this organization."
Hodges appreciates being able to adapt to the NFL with a familiar face in Mauti step for step.
"Here with one of my teammates that I grinded with all through college; I'm here with him, so me and him go through this together, go through this process and learn about more football," Hodges said. "We learned a lot in college football at Penn State, but here's it's a different type of game, different type of level and I'm excited to learn."
Hodges and Mauti were the two linebackers drafted by the Vikings in April, at the spot where a starting job might be most open of any position on the roster. Minnesota felt comfortable enough in Erin Henderson's versatility that they weren't focused on drafting a middle linebacker early to replace Jasper Brinkley. Believing Henderson could move to the middle if needed, Spielman didn't focus on one spot and went for the best linebacker available in the fourth round.
That was Hodges, who's strictly been outside as a linebacker in his career. But Hodges isn't foreign to other positions. Early in his career at Penn State, Hodges made the move to linebacker from safety. He's on the lighter side and has used his athleticism to his advantage. He's had 215 tackles over the past two seasons, with 4.5 sacks and three interceptions.
"He is very good in coverage," Spielman said. "You see him, when you watch the tape; playing out in space and playing over slots. He has the unique background of being a defensive back and the unique skill set of once he added on that weight and became a linebacker but he still moves around like a safety, yet he is physical enough to play as a linebacker."
The Vikings, because of the versatility of Henderson, have options for the third starter among Hodges, Marvin Mitchell, Tyrone McKenzie and Audie Cole. Hodges, who has gained 30 pounds since his days as a defensive back, has his mind on earning the final starting spot.
"My mindset, you know, isn't to come in and be a backup," Hodges said. "I do want to play when it comes to September. I want to be out there with that starting lineup. . . . They're going to play the best players, so it's my job to get out here, learn the defensive scheme as fast as I can. I know athletically and talent-wise, I can play the game out here. It's all about learning the system, how fast you can get the system down pat."
And after going against Peterson, corralling other running backs might seem easy.
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