Since Jasper Brinkley bolted for the desert this offseason, the Minnesota Vikings have been woefully void of starting-caliber talent at the middle linebacker spot.
While they failed to address the position with one of their three first-round picks of the 2013 NFL Draft, a certain fourth-rounder could be a serious option as the 2013 campaign approaches. That particular draft pick is Gerald Hodges, formerly of Penn State.
It’s less than an ideal situation for the Vikings, who struggled a bit with their run defense in 2012. Still, seeing as they didn’t draft or sign a capable replacement in the past two months, Hodges might just be their best bet.
At this point in his football career, Hodges is far from a finished product. The potential is there, though, for him to evolve into a quality starter for the Vikings considering the talent he displayed for the Nittany Lions.
Hodges, a converted safety, has plenty of experience in coverage, a prerequisite in the Vikings’ Tampa 2 defense. He does a great job of using his instincts and above average athleticism to get into position to find the ball in the air and make plays.
Over his last two seasons at Penn State, Hodges amassed 215 tackles while working at numerous linebacker positions in their 4-3 scheme. A former wrestling star, he has the physicality to compete in the trenches. While he’s going to have to get stronger and work on his hand usage when working through traffic, he has the stout tackling ability and impact against the run that should make up for Brinkley’s departure.
Another thing that could give the Vikings coaching staff enough confidence to start Hodges in the middle is the ferocious defensive line they will field in 2013. First, the Vikings have two talented defensive ends in Jared Allen and Brian Robison who do a great job of occupying blockers. Second, the Vikings now have a dynamic duo at defensive tackle that includes Pro Bowler Kevin Williams and 2013 first-rounder Sharrif Floyd. Having those two monsters in the middle should suck up blockers all game long, which makes starting an inexperienced linebacker like Hodges less of a liability.
To top it all off, Hodges was a team captain at Penn State as they battled through the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Considering the Vikings’ recent emphasis on high-character players, Hodges seems like a terrific fit in Minnesota.
It’s a risky move for the Vikings, but it could be the route they must take given the players they have available. With two proven starters in Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson as his bookends, though, Hodges could find himself in a perfect position to mature into a legitimate NFL middle linebacker.