Notebook: Gerald Hodges breaks through amid depleted Vikings defense
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Gerald Hodges broke through the interior line, reached out and blocked the Oakland Raiders' best attempt at putting points on the board before a garbage-time touchdown in Friday's preseason opener.
Hodges blocked the Raiders' field goal attempt to establish himself as the standout performer for a Minnesota Vikings defense that just missed a shutout despite playing without seven defensive backs. Hodges also tied for a team-high five combined tackles, one for a loss, in front of an announced crowd of 51,752 at TCF Bank Stadium, as he became the first Vikings player to block a field goal in a preseason game since Corey Miller in 1999.
"The whole defense executed and a gap opened up and I just went for it," Hodges said of the blocked kick. "[First blocked kick] ever in my life, never thought I'd do that."
Hodges' heavy lifting included an assisted tackle in coverage on the opening kickoff, extending to his blocked kick and capped off with a stuff on Raiders running back George Atkinson III for a loss of two yards in the fourth quarter. As first-time head coach Mike Zimmer tried to keep track of everything at once, Hodges' individual performance got lost in the shuffle - though it likely won't go unnoticed during Saturday's coach's review.
"Honestly, I didn't notice," Zimmer said. "I'm not trying to give you coach-speak, because if I noticed him I'd tell you. I'm so involved in the game, it's hard for me. I know what's going on with the defense, but trying to figure out where we're going next; I didn't see a lot of guys making mistakes, so that's a good thing."
Chad Greenway and Captain Munnerlyn played just one series, leveeing the load onto rookie Jabari Price, Shaun Prater and Derek Cox in the secondary, among others, as well as Jasper
Brinkley and Anthony Barr, who played into the second half.
The Vikings gave up more than 27 yards to the Raiders on just two drives, one ending in the fourth-quarter touchdown to erase a shutout. The other Oakland drive went just 49 yards and ended after fullback Jamize Olawale tipped a Derek Carr pass into the air and into the arms of safety Kurt Coleman, who started alongside Harrison Smith at safety. Safeties Robert Blanton, Andrew Sendejo and Jamarca Sanford all sat out. Mistral Raymond left and did not return with a head injury.
The Vikings' depleted defense, also without cornerbacks Marcus Sherels (hamstring) and Josh Robinson (hamstring), had plenty of help from Oakland; the Raiders went 4-for-13 on third down to go along with 13 penalties.
Hodges watched the Raiders score their lone touchdown from the sideline as the Vikings had put their third-string linebackers in. Though Zimmer may not have noticed Hodges right away, the second-year linebacker's goal is to make himself impossible to miss.
"The coaches put extra emphasis on me," Hodges said. "Saying, 'Just keep going hard, just be consistent.' That's what my goal is -- to be consistent."
Adam Thielen and Jerick McKinnon handled the return duties for the Vikings as Cordarrelle Patterson stayed on offense and Sherels, the team's punt returner, watched in street clothes.
Thielen averaged 17.3 yards per his three punt returns, including a 26-yard return that included a few missed tackles for the second-year receiver.
"Just my versatility," Thielen said. "I feel like I can play a lot of different positions. Coach [Mike] Priefer is a great coach and he's helped me a lot over the past year."
Thielen seems to be the front-runner for the fifth receiving spot on the Vikings' roster and could make a push for Sherels' job as Zimmer sorts out his NFC North-high 19 defensive backs on the 90-man roster. He was targeted just twice on offense, but also forced a four-yard loss in punt coverage when he wrapped up Raiders returner Denarius Moore at the 19-yard line.
"In practice we don't get to tackle anyone," Thielen said. "So it was fun to actually tackle someone. It's been awhile since I had a tackle."
• The Vikings trotted out an extra offensive lineman in Joe Berger for Matt Asiata's one-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. The play was set up by a Matt Cassel pass that found Kyle Rudolph for 22 yards on a corner route.
• Outside of the Vikings' opening 10-play, 70-yard scoring drive, the offense sputtered to the tune of 166 yards on the next 56 plays [~3.0 yards per].
• Minnesota allowed five sacks, including a strip-sack on Teddy Bridgewater after he saw pressure from the middle and left side. Tackle Matt Kalil recovered the fumble.
• The Vikings didn't use Jarius Wright much until an end-around that gained 17 yards in the second quarter. He was targeted three times for no catches as the Vikings used Jerome Simpson, Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings in three-receiver sets.
• Rookie linebacker Anthony Barr recorded his first NFL sack after he worked past Olawale into the backfield and peeled off to wrap up Matt Schaub.
• The Vikings were the least-penalized team in the NFC a year ago and had just five penalties on the night, in contrast to Oakland's 13.
• Kicker Blair Walsh (1-for-2) converted from 30 yards out to make the score 10-0, but missed wide right from 53 yards to end Bridgewater's final drive in the third quarter. Said Zimmer: "It went fairly smooth as far as the decisions that I had to make, for the most part...I wish I wouldn't have kicked the field goal. Because we had good field position, we were playing good on defense and I got greedy, maybe. But I thought he could make it."
• Jeff Locke punted eight times (one shy of career-high), averaging 36.8 net yards per punt, including two inside the 20-yard line. Locke would've had a third downed inside the 20, but Shaun Prater's deflection back into the field of play was wasted when Jabari Price failed to get both feet out of the endzone before downing the punt.