'My mindset isn't (to) be a backup,' Vikings rookie Gerald Hodges says
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Fourth-round pick and former Penn State linebacker Gerald Hodges could have been a safety -- a position the Minnesota Vikings didn't select in this year's NFL draft.
But injuries in 2009 to then-PSU linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Sean Lee, both currently starting in the NFL for the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, propelled Hodges to switch from his homegrown position in the secondary to the front seven as a freshman.
"I went to coach (Joe Paterno) and said I wanted to play," Hodges said. "I wasn't playing much at safety, so I wanted to play a little linebacker, where they had some injuries."
Hodges' 6-foot-1, 240-pound frame screams outside linebacker, but the Paulsboro, N.J., native insists he was a safety -- even at a hefty 210 pounds entering his first year with the Nittany Lions.
He turned from an oversized safety to an undersized linebacker in a 2009 nonconference game against Syracuse. It wasn't as much of a want to play linebacker as it a want to play, said Hodges, who knows he may have to have the same approach to get on the field for the Vikings.
"For sure," Hodges said of playing special teams. "I'll do whatever I can. I'm just going to continue working hard with two of the greatest linebacker coaches.
He hunkered down and competed on the Nittany Lions' special teams as an interior lineman on punts and a wedge buster on kickoffs while learning under a healthy linebacker pair of Bowman and Lee.
"But my mindset isn't to come in and be a backup," Hodges said.
He also wants to nab the starting weakside linebacker spot in the Vikings 4-3 scheme, which was held down by 6-foot-3, 244-pound Erin Henderson last season. Henderson said he is trying to gain weight this offseason to play middle linebacker in 2013.
"Depending on how they see me move, I think they'll tell me what to do with my weight," Hodges said. "I think I could gain a little bit more strength, but that will come in the offseason and camp when it comes to working out."
By 2012, Hodges started fulltime at outside linebacker and led Penn State's defense with seven pass deflections -- beating out his teammates in the secondary.
After Hodges was drafted by the Vikings, he was too busy celebrating to hear his former college teammate and Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti, a seventh-round pick by the Vikings, was also headed to Minneapolis.
On Friday, Mauti watched from the sidelines, still recovering from knee resconstruction, as Hodges led a group of seven linebackers through drills at the Vikings rookie minicamp.
Vikings linebacker coaches Mike Singletary and Fred Pagac had each linebacker candidate stutter step five times and sprint while leaping to intercept a pass overhead.
To a former safety, it's all natural.
"Playing safety and learning how to flip your hips, I feel I'll be able to run with the guys who aren't as fast as receivers or slots," Hodges said. "I've got a pretty good feel for covering tight ends, I covered them all last year."
-- Andrew Krammer, Special to 1500ESPN.com