The Vikings finally picked two linebackers on Day 3 of the NFL draft, but it would be more than a long stretch to suggest that either one has a chance to be the Day 1 starter at middle linebacker.
So now what? If Penn State teammates Gerald Hodges, picked in the fourth round, and Michael Mauti, a seventh-round selection, aren’t the answer, then who plays middle linebacker when the Vikings head to Detroit for Week 1?
“We’re going to sit and assess what we have,” Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said after the draft. “We’ll get to that on Monday.
“We [drafted] a couple of linebackers and signed another linebacker in college free agency, so we’ll see where we’re at and go from there.”
With their first pick on Saturday, the Vikings used a fourth-rounder (155th overall) on Hodges, a 6-1, 243-pound outside linebacker known for his coverage abilities as a former safety.
The only time he’s played inside was in a 3-4 scheme at the East-West Shrine game last season.
“We thought he was a very unique athlete,” Spielman said. “He has the position flexibility to play a lot of different linebacker spots, either the Sam, the Will and we’ll look at him some at Mike.”
Three rounds and 58 picks later, the Vikings reunited Hodges with Mauti, a 6-2, 243-pound middle linebacker who’s known as a strong leader but one who has torn the left anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee twice (2009 and 2012) and the ACL in his right knee once (2011).
“I asked [head athletic trainer] Eric Sugarman 8,000 times … ‘Is this guy healthy?’” said Spielman, who was assured Mauti will be fine. “[Mauti] is a heck of a football player and has a great attitude and great leadership.
“He was just too good of a football player, too good of a character to pass up. He’s very intense and he’ll be a great competition at that mike linebacker position.”
Mauti said it gives him confidence to be going to a team that has had players such as Chad Greenway and, of course, Adrian Peterson come back successfully from torn ACLs.
“I spoke a little bit with their doctors at the combine, and they were confident in the way the [magnetic resonance imaging tests] looked,” Mauti said.
“They understand where I’m at. It’s going to be a great relationship as far as when I’ll be ready. I’ll be ready by preseason camp. That’s my goal.”
Losing ‘half a man’
North Carolina guard Travis Bond (6-6, 345) lost so much weight between his junior and senior years that Spielman had a hard time spotting him as a senior after scouting him as a junior.
“It was funny, I went to the North Carolina-Louisville game in September and I didn’t have any 2012 tape at the time, so I watched 2011 tape and I saw this big guard that was about 370 pounds or whatever he was and saw that he didn’t move very well,” Spielman said.
“But then they came running out of the tunnel and I’m looking and looking to see this guy saying, ‘I’ve got to see how big he is.’ But I couldn’t find him. Then I saw they pulled half a man out of him and I was like, ‘Is this the same guy, the same number?
“And I went over and talked to the offensive line coach and he had lost a tremendous amount of weight [almost 50 pounds] and then I’m sitting there watching him play live and he’s moving night and day from what I saw when he was too heavy. … He fits the type of lineman we’re trying to bring in here. Guys that can move at the point, especially with the running game we try to establish.”
In an effort to bolster offensive line depth, the Vikings added two guards in the late rounds, picking UCLA’s Jeff Baca in the sixth round and North Carolina’s Travis Bond in the seventh.
Bond, who’s 6-6 and currently 327 pounds, can play tackle as well as guard and certainly doesn’t show any toughness concerns.
In February 2012, while riding a scooter to study hall, he was hit by a truck.
“That was a bit of a shock that night,” he said. “Not a fun thing to do, believe me.”
Not that it kept Bond from his destination. He got up a bit shaken with a broken wrist but then saw the sizable dent he put in the truck.
“I was hurt in the process,” Bond said. “And his truck got a boo-boo.”
A fellow female student came to help Bond but he waved her off.
“I just laughed about it and went on to study hall,” he said. “And explained to my tutor why I was late.”