For the first time since 2011, Michael Mauti hasn’t spent most of his spring rehabbing an injury.
The Vikings’ second-year middle linebacker is more than a year removed from his third ACL reconstruction surgery, and for the first time in a long time, Mauti is feeling like himself again.
“Right now, I feel great physically,” the 2013 seventh-round pick said. “I had a full offseason just to work out and get my legs right and not have to rehab anything, which is great. I feel like my body is back to where it was. I haven’t felt this good in a couple years now, which is a great thing because I don’t have to worry about where I am physically and I can just go out and play.”
Mauti is in the mix at middle linebacker, though he has been taking a backseat to Jasper Brinkley and Chad Greenway in a competition that defensive coordinator George Edwards describes as an “open” one. Mauti, who was active for 14 games last year because of his play on special teams, was used sparingly on defense last year.
He is ready to change that this year. And no, it’s not just because his knees are troubling him less.
“Last year, being a rookie, there were just so many things [to learn]. It wasn’t just the knee necessarily,” the former Penn State standout said. “I felt good enough to play and I made some plays last year on [special] teams. But really, not being a rookie really is the best part about it. Mentally, you got that first year under your belt and you can start to get more comfortable. You’re not the new guy anymore. Now it’s just learning the defense and putting all my focus into that.”
While he is becoming versed in a completely different defense, Mauti is working on the subtle but key nuances of the MIKE linebacker spot, the decisions that happen before the ball is even snapped -- getting himself and teammates lined up in the right spots, making the reads and calls before the snap and ensuring that all 11 defenders are on the same page of Mike Zimmer’s playbook.
Of course, what happens during the plays themselves is important, too, and Mauti will have to have a strong training camp to distinguish himself from a crowded group of linebackers. Brinkley had been lining up at middle linebacker on the first-team defense during OTAs open to the media. And now that outside linebacker Anthony Barr is back, Greenway has been manning the middle more, both in the base defense and in sub packages. Mauti has worked with the backups.
"Michael’s doing a good job," Zimmer said. "He’s again competing for a spot as a starter or on the team, both. He’s a smart guy, he’s got a tremendous family background with playing football and he’s an extremely hard worker, very, very focused on what he’s trying to get done and so I’m excited to see him when he gets in here in pads, see him when the bullets are flying a little bit more."
But down in Mankato, Mauti hopes to inject himself in the middle linebacker conversation.
“I think we’re all competing. It’s just a matter of who they feel is going to be best in that spot,” he said. “We’ve got a good group of linebackers here that work hard. In training camp, coaches will make that decision. But that’s what we’re all here to do -- to play and give it our best shot.”