Gerald Hodges, a backup at both outside linebacker positions, will get the start at middle linebacker in the Vikings' preseason game in Dallas on Saturday, according to coach Mike Zimmer.

Meanwhile, Zimmer said rookie second-round draft pick Eric Kendricks, who started last Saturday's game at middle linebacker, will be the nickel linebacker along with Anthony Barr.

The team will be using its fourth of five preseason games to continue to look at different combinations at linebacker. Audie Cole started the first two games in the middle. Chad Greenway has been with the first nickel unit, but that role will be filled by Kendricks in Dallas.

Hodges has no regular-season experience in the middle, but the Vikings are trying him there because some consider him to be the team's third-best linebacker. Zimmer said Hodges has looked good in his time in the middle.

"Good, good. First week it was more learning because it was different alignment so he wasn't perfect with all that stuff," Zimmer said. "But when he's played he's done good.''

Health and confidence

A couple of weeks ago left tackle Matt Kalil talked about how much fun it was to be free of the knee pain that plagued him last season and how much fun the game was again.

It has showed. Through three preseason games, Kalil's lateral quickness appears to have returned. According to Pro Football Focus, Kalil has been in pass protection for 35 snaps through three preseason games.

And he has not allowed even a quarterback hit or hurry, much less a sack. And while Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay didn't have top-notch opposition for Kalil, he did look good against Khalil Mack on Saturday.

"At first, I thought just being healthy was the key to everything," Kalil said. "But it took a while to get the technique back. You work on that and, slowly, you get to the point where you're in the game and you're not thinking about the technique, you're just playing.''

And after that the confidence starts coming back.

"It took awhile," Kalil said. "I was healthy in the OTAs and going into camp. But then things started getting better and better."

Patterson, again

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner was a bit more diplomatic when talking about Cordarrelle Patterson's role in the Shaun Hill's second-quarter interception Saturday. When asked if Patterson had run the wrong route, Zimmer, after the game, said, "Probably — if you were a betting man.''

Here was Turner's take: "It was an audible at the line of scrimmage," he said. "And we didn't communicate it as well as we need to. Communication is two parts. It's getting the information out, and receiving the information. We got a route run wrong, and Shaun should probably have never thrown the ball.''

Injury update

A back injury forced center John Sullivan to miss a fourth consecutive practice in addition to Saturday night's third preseason game. But Zimmer said he's not concerned.

"No, from what I understand, it's nothing serious,'' he said of the back spasms that have forced Sullivan out of action. "We're just being cautious with him.''

Sullivan has been getting treatment rather than watching practice from the sidelines. With former Texans center Chris Myers announcing his retirement, Sullivan takes over the lead in consecutive regular-season starts among league centers with 57.

Safety Antone Exum (hamstring) returned to practice Tuesday.

King Adrian?

Adrian Peterson, never shy about his talent, spent some time Tuesday explaining his comment from a few days ago saying he was the LeBron James of the NFL.

Those comments came in an interview during Saturday's game against Oakland when, reminded that Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles had made a similar claim, Peterson said he was a better candidate for that comparison.

And while he didn't back down Tuesday, he did sound a bit exasperated that everyone was making such a fuss. "It was just casual conversation.''

But: "I look at all his athletic ability, his God-given talent. Fast, explosive, just all the intangibles. I feel like it's a different sport, but I have the same qualities," Peterson said.