Note: We continue our series on the Vikings' third-day draft picks.
Rick Spielman was fielding questions shortly after the Vikings had finished picking in the NFL draft, when someone wondered if defensive coordinator Fred Pagac had petitioned for the team to take former Ohio State linebacker Ross Homan with its fourth and final pick in the sixth round.
Pagac was a three-year starter for the Buckeyes at tight end in the early ’70s and was an assistant coach at the school from 1978 to 2000. Homan referred to Pagac as “a legend” at Ohio State during a conference call with Twin Cities reporters.
Thus, it made perfect sense to think Pagac was the guy behind this pick. Spielman, the Vikings vice president of player personnel, quickly dimissed that theory.
“It wasn’t Pagac, it was my brother,” said Spielman, referring to former Ohio State star linebacker Chris Spielman. Chris Spielman remains close to the Buckeyes program and is the host of a radio show in Columbus.
“Ross is a very talented football player,” Rick Spielman said. “I know the knock on him a little bit is the size factor [6-feet, 238 pounds], but [he’s] maybe one of the most instinctive linebackers that was on the board. He was a lot higher on our board then where we were able to get him, not only because I think he can play three downs in the NFL, but because of his athletic skills and his instincts. I think he is going to help contribute on special teams as well. He’s just a solid, good football player.”
The 24-year-old Homan started 30 of 54 games at weak-side linebacker during parts of five seasons at Ohio State. He appeared in only four games in 2007 but ended up being granted a medical hardship after suffering a turf toe injury in what was to have been his sophomore season.
Homan agrees with Rick Spielman that instincts are the strength of his game. “I can read the play pass coverage-wise and help with the run,” he said. “Hopefully, I can utilize all my skills to help the team out.”
The cousin of former Buckeyes Tom and Bobby Hoying, Homan started all 24 games in which he played the past two seasons and was a first-team All-Big Ten choice as a senior in 2010 after starting 11 games. He was second on the team with 72 tackles, including one sack and two tackles for loss. He caused two fumbles and recovered one as the Buckeyes led the Big Ten and finished fourth nationally in total defense (262.2 yards).
Homan, a member of the watch list for the Nagurski, Lombardi and Butkus awards and a Lott trophy quarterfinalist in 2010, had five of his seven interceptions with the Buckeyes as a junior.
Homan finds himself stepping into a situation where there could be an opening for a starting job. Ben Leber, the Vikings’ weak-side linebacker the past five seasons, will be a free agent once the NFL’s labor situation is settled and there is no guarantee he will return.
The Vikings already put the franchise tag on strong-side linebacker Chad Greenway and if that holds up he will be due a salary of about $10 million for the 2011 season. Starting middle linebacker E.J. Henderson is due a base salary of $4.7 million in the final year of his deal.
Homan certainly will be expected to play a key role on special teams if he makes the 53-man roster. The Vikings selected former Gophers linebacker Nate Triplett in the fifth round last season but he did not end up making the final roster.
“I will do whatever they ask,” Homan said of his potential role. “They have two great linebackers in Henderson and Greenway to learn from so I’m excited for the opportunity.”
Homan figures to compete with Erin Henderson for the starting job, if Leber doesn’t return and another free agent isn’t brought in. Heath Farwell, Kenny Onatolu and Jasper Brinkley are among the other backup linebackers on the roster but Brinkley is projected to remain as E.J. Henderson’s primary backup in the middle.
Homan put on about 10 pounds after last season in an attempt to improve his draft stock.
“It was all good weight,” Homan said. “I ate healthy and just wasn’t eating fast food to try and gain the pounds. It was a gradual increase of weight and I ran good time at the combine and felt good about all my position drills. I’ve maintained that weight.”