It seems only fitting that Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti get a chance to continue playing alongside each other at the next level. The Minnesota Vikings made sure that happened in the later rounds of the NFL Draft last week. Hodges was drafted by Minnesota with the 23rd pick in the fourth round and then drafted Mauti with the seventh pick in the seventh round.
The Viking are already looking for Mauti to play at middle linebacker, in time. The Vikings have two guys who can man the middle of the defense even without moving Henderson over from weak side. Audie Cole and Marvin Mitchell were both listed second on the depth chart at different spots last season and have been mentioned as potential starters in the middle. The Vikings also have salary cap room to work with and possible pursue a free agent such as Brian Urlacher. The addition of Mauti to the Vikings roster certainly adds some potential depth, if nothing else. Mauti will have to show his knees are ready to go and he will have to compete for a spot on the team, but the Vikings seem to feel confident he will do just that and felt he was too good of a player to pass up on once he dropped to the seventh round."I really tried to go in to this draft without any expectations because I understand my situation," Mauti said in a brief conference call with Minnesota area media soon after being drafted. "It's going to be a good summer of therapy and getting ready for preseason camp."
Mauti acknowledges that he may not be up to full speed to compete at the NFL level when the Vikings off-season training sessions take place, but he seems confident he will be able to compete later on. After rounding out his collegiate career playing mostly at the outside linebacker position, Mauti is likely to given an opportunity to play in the middle of the Vikings 4-3 defense.
"I have a lot of experience in the 4-3 and played all three positions at Penn State so I'm real comfortable with all three them," Mauti said. "I haven't talked to them about schemes or anything. I'm sure I'll talk to them more about that this week."
So, where do the linebackers fit in at Minnesota?
Minnesota was 15th in the NFL in total defense last season, and ranked 10th against the run and 30th against the pass. The Vikings made a clear push to improve the defense in the draft, with the first round selection of Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and Florida State defensive back Xavier Rhodes. The Vikings also added Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson in the first round before coming back on Saturday and getting back to focusing on defense by drafting Hodges.
Hodges will have some coveage concerns.
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Hodges brings solid coverage to Minnesota's defense, which should be expected after being converted from safety at Penn State. His ball awareness is generally very good and that makes him a strong asset to Minnesota's defense. What will be a concern at the NFL level is Hodges's ability to shed blockers. If Hodges can't get a blocker off of him, it will not matter how well he can carry.
Hodges could jump up the Minnesota depth chart quickly if the Vikings decide to part ways with Erin Henderson, a starter at weak side linebacker. Another option would be to move Henderson to the inside linebacker position, giving Hodges a chance to start quickly at the weak side spot.
Mauti will certainly have to work hard to keep a roster spot in Minnesota, with mobility certainly going to be a concern and a lack of great athleticism compared to other NFL linebackers. What Mauti has in his favor though is his attention to fundamental skills and his instincts on the field. Being able to be filled in at multiple linebacker spots if needed also helps Mauti's cause, if he can show his knees can hold up. Penn State fans know Mauti is going to work hard for his spot of course, and his level head and attitude should also help him make a case to stay on the roster in Minnesota.