MANKATO – Gerald Hodges is an outside linebacker, but he might also be the third-best linebacker on a Vikings team that doesn’t have a starting job opening at outside linebacker.
So coach Mike Zimmer made the most logical step in that situation heading into Saturday night’s practice at Blakeslee Stadium.
“I’m actually going to put Hodges at ‘mike’ linebacker for a couple plays just to see what he’s like in there,” Zimmer said.
Audie Cole has the tentative hold on the middle linebacker position in the base 4-3 defense. Rookie Eric Kendricks, who leads the MLB pack in the nickel package, and longshot Michael Mauti also are in the mix.
But Hodges has made too many plays for the coaches to assume that his only potential is being the backup to strongside linebacker Anthony Barr and weakside linebacker Chad Greenway.
Hodges started four games in place of Barr and three in place Greenway because of injuries a year ago. His highlight was intercepting Jets quarterback Geno Smith and posting the fastest defensive score (12 seconds) in team history.
“Gerald has done a very nice job of things that I’m asking him to do and I am hopeful that he will continue to do those things,” Zimmer said. “If he does, then Gerald has a chance to be a very quality NFL football player. He’s big and strong and fast, so if he can continue on the right path, then he has an opportunity.”
Hodges obviously will continue to work at outside linebacker as well.
Right guard decision
Asked when he wants to make his final decision on the starting right guard position, Zimmer laughed and said, “Yesterday.”
But the coach also knows the decision could take some time and can’t be made until the Vikings get into their five-game preseason schedule.
Mike Harris, a career tackle, has been given the first opportunity to win the job and has been with the first-teamers throughout the first week of camp. By all accounts via the coaching staff, the big fella has done a solid job.
Harris is in good shape — “Best shape of my life,” he said earlier this camp — and is doing a good job of keeping his pads low, which is difficult for taller guys used to playing tackle.
The competition behind Harris includes inexperienced players and Joe Berger, the preferred choice to serve as the backup to all three interior positions.
Zimmer would like to make the quick call so everyone can get used to their roles. But it’s just not possible.
“It’s more important to make the right decision than it is to make the fast decision,” Zimmer said.
As the Vikings try to choose a right guard, Brandon Fusco is starting to get comfortable at left guard after moving over from the right side this spring.
“It’s just different technique. It’s basically everything you learn on the right is opposite on the left,” Fusco said. “It’s something you have to get used to, but I don’t think it is going to be a difficult transition for me at all.”
One of the biggest keys will be getting on the same page as left tackle Matt Kalil. Last season, lapses in communication between Kalil and left guard Charlie Johnson and confusion with their assignments resulted in a few sacks.
“I’m starting to get more comfortable with Matt,” Fusco said. “We’re on the right page right now. It’s good progress. We’re not where we want to be yet, but we’re getting there.”
New role for rookie LB
The Vikings are still figuring out how to best use outside linebacker Edmond Robinson, a seventh-round pick from Newberry College. Robinson was often used as an edge rusher at the Division II school, but Zimmer hopes he can fit into his 4-3 scheme.
“He looks like the kind of linebackers that I like,” he said. “He’s big and physical and he runs like crazy. He’s playing a completely different spot than he did in college. But he shows flashes in being able to be the kind of linebacker that we’d like to have here.”
• The Vikings signed free-agent wide receiver Ryan Whalen, a sixth-round pick of the Bengals in 2011 after playing at Stanford. He played three seasons for the Bengals before being released after the 2014 preseason. Whalen appeared in 17 games for the Bengals, mostly playing on special teams.
• Center John Sullivan left practice early because his wife went into labor.