It has been proven throughout NFL history that team success is largely based on being able to develop young players efficiently. The Minnesota Vikings have spent the past few seasons stockpiling a number of young and talented players with the goal of doing just that. One of these young and talented players is second-year linebacker Gerald Hodges.
The Vikings selected Hodges in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft with the hope that he may one day become an important piece to a rebuilding group of linebackers. Hodges, who was a highly accomplished college player at Penn State, possesses athleticism rivaled by few NFL linebackers but entered the league as a very raw talent, as he formerly was a quarterback in high school and also spent time as a safety in college before transitioning to linebacker.
During his rookie season with the Vikings, Hodges played almost exclusively on special teams. However, it is worth noting that he was one of the most effective and important members of the Vikings’ special teams group. After a year of NFL seasoning, Hodges will look to assume a larger role on the Vikings defense.
Given that Hodges is a converted safety, it should come as no surprise that his greatest assets as a defensive player are play recognition, instincts and coverage skills. While his 6-foot-1, 243-pound frame is considered to be undersized for a NFL linebacker, Hodges has not experienced any issues in the tackling department. However, Hodges’ ability to shed blocks is an area that will need improvement if he is to assume a key role on the Vikings defense.
During OTAs, Hodges spent time playing alongside Chad Greenway at both outside linebacker positions. He has also spent time with the first team in the Vikings’ nickel package. Given that the veteran Greenway is firmly entrenched as one of the Vikings’ starting outside linebackers, Hodges will continue to compete with Audie Cole as well as rookies Anthony Barr and Brandon Watts for playing time.
Hodges has reportedly shown impressive development in his second summer with the Vikings, establishing himself as a strong candidate to play an important role in Mike Zimmer’s new defensive scheme. While it is unlikely that Hodges will begin the season as a starter, he certainly has not been ruled out. At the very least he should see playing time in passing situations and against two tight end packages due to his safety-caliber coverage skills.
Regardless of whether Hodges becomes a starter at some point during the 2014 season for the Vikings, expect for him to play a much greater role this season on the Vikings’ defense than he did during his rookie season last year.