'Strong' legs under him, Michael Mauti is ready to make an impression
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- For the first time in three years, Michael Mauti didn't have to go through a rehab program this offseason.
Mauti, 24, is healthy and hopes to stay that way after three ACL injuries shortened his college career and sent him down the draft boards to the Vikings in the seventh round (213th overall) in 2013. As he settles into learning Mike Zimmer's defense, Mauti is doing so with a full offseason of training, not recovering, behind him.
"Feel great, my legs are as strong as they've been," Mauti said.
Though Mauti didn't get a chance to make an impression on defense last season, he was a regular special teams contributor -- including in a November loss at Seattle in which he tweaked his most recently surgically-repaired knee.
Mauti had to wear a brace off and on after that, but so far there's been no need for added protection on the knees.
"Once we get into training camp, if it's feeling the way it is [now], there's no need to do that," Mauti said.
The Vikings underwent a facelift at linebacker this offseason, letting two starters from a year ago in Erin Henderson and Marvin Mitchell go. The team brought back Jasper Brinkley, who will play a much different role than his last campaign in purple two years ago. Then there's Mauti, a second-year linebacker, who has played part of a rotation of Jasper Brinkley and Chad Greenway as the team's middle linebackers, with Mauti typically playing behind both.
In base sets, Greenway has remained on the weak side of the defense with Brinkley in the middle, but Vikings coaches are focused on versatility in personnel. So they've decided to give Greenway reps in the middle as he can potentially play that role in games depending on sub packages or injuries.
Audie Cole started a few games in the middle last season in place of Henderson, but the Vikings have kept his snaps mainly on the strong side of the defense, filling in as first-round pick Anthony Barr comes along.
For Mauti, he sees an opportunity in the turnover. Mauti plans to continue training through the five-week off period before he can pop the pads on and prove himself at training camp starting July 24.
"He's again competing for a spot as a starter," Zimmer said. "He's a smart guy, he's got a tremendous family background with playing football and he's an extremely hard worker, very, very focused on what he's trying to get done and so I'm excited to see him when he gets in here in pads, see him when the bullets are flying a little bit more."