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Rookie cornerback Trae Waynes could be Vikings starter

Rookie cornerback Trae Waynes as a starter on opening day?

“That’s what we’re aiming for,” Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards said after Thursday’s practice. But aiming and expecting are two different things. And even then you have to take what Edwards said with a grain of salt.

Edwards said Waynes, the team’s first-round pick in the 2015 draft (No. 11 overall), showed definite improvement through three preseason games.

“He’s gotten better week to week,” Edwards said. “First week to second, he got better at some things we asked him to get better at. And, in the third game, we thought he got better. Hopefully this week we’ll see some improvement with things we worked on in practice.”

Now, when Edwards talks about Waynes starting, he’s more than likely talking about having him as the third cornerback in the team’s nickel defense.

Waynes is listed behind veteran Terence Newman at left cornerback. But he has been getting most of the snaps as the third corner in nickel situations, with Newman moving inside.

So while the Vikings might be aiming for Waynes to start, or even be the starting nickel, it appears he’ll have to show more consistent production to do so by opening day. “That’s what we’re all working for, but we’ll take it week to week,” Edwards said. “We have two more [preseason] games to go, and we’ll keep evaluating through the process.”

WHAT WE’VE BEEN WAITING FOR

Finally, a big Teddy Bridgewater-to-Mike Wallace connection. It came during a seven-on-seven drill when Wallace ran down the left sidelines and grabbed a long Bridgewater pass with one hand.

The next step, of course, is to see it in games. Wallace, brought in during the off-season, has been pretty quiet in the preseason, with just one reception.

Don’t worry, Bridgewater says.

“We do want to get Mike going heading into the regular season,” Bridgewater said. “And he’s a guy who is going to be huge for us in the pass game. He’s going to force teams to give us different looks this year. So we definitely want to get him going, whether it’s this week or definitely going into Week 1.’’

ABOUT BLAIR

Special teams coach Mike Priefer said, after some intense film work with Blair Walsh on Sunday and a strong week of practice, he expects his kicker to rebound from a difficult game Saturday.

Walsh, coming off an up-and-down 2014 regular season, has struggled during the preseason, going 2-for-6 on field goals. Saturday against Oakland, in the swirling winds at TCF Bank Stadium, he missed two field goals inside 40 yards and an extra point as well as a 49-yard field goal attempt.

“He owned up to it, he came in early on Sunday morning and we watched the tape,” Priefer said. “Some of the mistakes he made were uncommon for him. He’s worked real hard this week to tweak his technique. I just think he needs to get his confidence back. And I think he had a good week of practice. I look forward to him rebounding well this week.”

INJURY REPORT

Center John Sullivan, whose back spasms have kept him out of practice since Thursday of last week, missed practice again. Also missing were T Carter Bykowski (pectoral) and DT Shamar Stephen (knee). TE MyCole Pruitt (knee) was able to do some early work in drills. TE Rhett Ellison, who left practice early Wednesday, was back at work Thursday with a bandage on his nose.

Hodges plans to play like a starter in first ever game at middle linebacker

Gerald Hodges has never played middle linebacker. Not in peewee. Not in his high school days in New Jersey. And not in his four years at Linebacker U.

“I never thought I’d be playing middle linebacker, either,” Hodges said.

But when the Vikings’ first-string defense takes the field against the Cowboys on Saturday, Hodges will get the first start of his life at middle linebacker.

The Vikings have given starts to Audie Cole and rookie Eric Kendricks at the position this preseason. But coach Mike Zimmer also wants to get a look at Hodges, who impressed as a reserve at outside linebacker last season.

After all, Hodges might be one of the team’s three best linebackers at the moment, and that would be one way to get the 24-year-old onto the field.

The coaching staff warmed to Hodges last season after he made a bunch of plays when filling in for weak-side linebacker Chad Greenway or strong-side linebacker Anthony Barr. He made 66 tackles, batted down seven passes and returned an early interception for a touchdown in the win over the Jets.

This spring, Hodges impressed the coaching staff with an improved attention to detail in the classroom and also when he practiced with more discipline.

“I think they know I love the game of football and I think they’re starting to believe and trust in me that I’m able to go out there and play top-of-the-line football,” Hodges said. “So I’m going to continue to earn their trust.”

Zimmer first started giving Hodges some reps at middle linebacker early in training camp three weeks ago. This week was the first during which Hodges received significant practice snaps at that spot.

Hodges said the transition’s biggest challenge has been getting used to new alignments and diagnosing different pre-snap reads. But “once the running back has the ball, it’s just play football from there,” Hodges said.

Zimmer, too, downplayed the difficulty of Hodges making the switch.

“I don’t know how tough it is, honestly,” he said. “When I was [coaching] in college, I had a nose tackle move there and he played pretty good.”

Hodges’ audition against the Cowboys might be limited to only a dozen or two snaps because Kendricks will replace him when the Vikings use sub packages. But Hodges knows this is “definitely a huge opportunity.”

“First snap, I’m going in there and playing like a starter,” Hodges said.

Today's Scoreboard

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  • LA Dodgers

    Cincinnati

     

    - F

    1

    0

  • LA Angels

    Detroit

     

    - F

    2

    0

  • Toronto

    Texas

     

    - F

    1

    4

  • Baltimore

    Kansas City

     

    - F

    3

    5

  • Chicago Cubs

    San Francisco

     

    - F

    1

    9

  • NY Mets

    Philadelphia

     

    - Bot 3rd

    0

    0

  • San Diego

    Washington

     

    - Bot 3rd

    0

    0

  • Pittsburgh

    Miami

     

    - Bot 3rd

    1

    0

  • Minnesota

    Tampa Bay

     

    - Top 3rd

    1

    2

  • Seattle

    Chicago White Sox

    7:10 PM

  • St. Louis

    Arizona

    8:40 PM

  • Phoenix

    Connecticut

     

    - 2nd, 0:00

    41

    48

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