John Butler, a linebackers coach and special teams coordinator under former Gophers coach Tim Brewster and now defensive coordinator at Penn State, is convinced the two Nittany Lions linebackers drafted by the Vikings — Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti — will turn out to be outstanding picks.
“Hodges is very athletic, an excellent game-day performer,” Butler said. “He has good ball skills, good range, a very athletic linebacker.
“He has excellent speed. He has great game speed. He really, though, can track and trace the ball. He was a very active player for us. Great in man coverage, great coverage, very good in special teams, excellent all-around out in space. I don’t know what the Vikings have [at each position], but he’s ready to play. I think they got a good one.”
Mauti’s college career was marred by three ACL tears, but Butler said the Vikings are getting a great kid. If he stays healthy, he also could be a great contributor. Butler described Mauti as a standout, too, but a little different from Hodges.
“Mauti was a first-team All-American nationally, in some of the votings, and had a great season in the 10 games that he played [in 2012],” Butler said. “He was a heart-and-soul guy, can play the run, can play the pass, can rush the passer. Very, very good player. When he’s healthy, he’s one of the best.”
Butler said he didn’t know Mauti’s condition at the present time because the linebacker has been training on his own, but said he believes Mauti will be ready for training camp.
Butler said there is no question the teammates were two of the best college linebackers in the country.
“I think their performances speak to that and hopefully they can continue that into the NFL,” he said. “Both of them were big-time performers against pretty good competition. I think they stack up pretty well against any other pair.”
Butler said Mauti hurt his knee in Penn State’s game against Indiana, the second-to-last of the season.
“He was healthy the whole season, got hurt in the 11th game,” Butler said. “He was an All-American, voted by the writers and the coaches. He had a great year.”
Butler was asked to compare how the two played.
“Gerald played out in space a little more and Mike Mauti was more of an inside linebacker, he’s a little bit bigger,” he said. “But pretty much they’re very similar players. Both are good kids. Mauti was the leader and the face of the program, and Gerald was on that leadership committee, too. But Mike was probably the main leader on the team.”
Butler said the program has overcome most of the problems following the Jerry Sandusky scandal and trial.
“You know it [was hard] early and then because we had good leaders like Mauti and good leaders like Gerald, the guys responded,” he said. “We got a good coaching staff, got a bunch of good players. It made it easier to kind of overcome it all because we had a lot of good players.”
Butler said he is looking forward to coming back here when Penn State plays the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium on Nov. 9.
Kahn’s picks flounder
If the Timberwolves are to make the playoffs next season, they will have to do better in the NBA draft.
Since taking over as Timberwolves general manager in 2009, David Kahn has made or obtained seven first-round draft selections.
With four first-round picks in 2009, Kahn selected Ricky Rubio fifth, Jonny Flynn sixth, Ty Lawson 18th and Wayne Ellington 28th overall. Lawson was traded on draft night to Denver.
In 2010 he selected Wesley Johnson fourth overall and made a deal for Lazar Hayward, the 30th overall pick, right after he was picked by Washington.
In 2011 he selected Derrick Williams second overall.
So four years into his tenure, the current Wolves squad has only two of those seven first-round picks.
Flynn was a piece of the trade for Brad Miller during the 2011 NBA draft, then split the 2011-12 season between Houston and Portland and signed with the Melbourne Tigers of the Australian National Basketball League in November of 2012.
Ellington played three seasons with the Wolves and was then traded to Memphis in 2012 for Dante Cunningham. Cunningham had a good year with the Wolves this season, averaging 8.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.
Johnson was traded to the Phoenix Suns for a second-round draft choice after two seasons with the Wolves.
Hayward played 42 games in his first year in Minnesota before being traded to Oklahoma City for two second-round draft picks and Robert Vaden. He briefly re-signed with the Wolves in December of 2012 but was waived by the team the following month.
• Former Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi said his 10-day trip to China to teach some classes turned out well. The Chinese were so impressed with Maturi that they tried to talk him into coaching basketball in China.
• Former Gophers quarterback MarQueis Gray, who signed as an undrafted free agent with the 49ers, said he didn’t get an offer from the Vikings. … Gophers football coaches believe cornerback Michael Carter, who had a great senior season and is taking part in the Vikings tryout camp this weekend, has a good chance to make it in the NFL. They say Carter lacks outstanding speed, but he makes up for it with other abilities.
• Tubby Smith kept only director of operations Joe Esposito from his Gophers basketball staff on his new Texas Tech staff. Ron Jirsa and Vince Taylor, who were his two top assistants at Minnesota, were not hired. The job for Esposito opened up when Steve Goodson, who at first agreed to accompany Smith to Texas Tech, accepted the director of basketball operations position under new coach Richard Pitino at Minnesota.
• Former Gophers standout Thomas Vanek might be available to the Wild if things don’t work out at Buffalo. When Buffalo traded captain Jason Pominville to the Wild and former Gopher Jordan Leopold to St. Louis, Vanek made it clear he didn’t want any part of a rebuilding program with the Sabres.
“Let’s be honest,” Vanek told reporters in Buffalo. “I’m not stupid. I know I have a year left [on my contract] and they can deal me for prospects, young guys and whatever else is out there. … It looks like a long rebuild, then it probably makes sense for both parties to move on.”
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org