Before Fridays preseason opener against Houston, we took time to check up on how the Vikings three first round selections were fairing in training camp. Wide out Cordarrelle Patterson impressed on offense and special teams during the contest, while defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd made a pair of splash plays before exiting with what is believed to be a minor knee injury. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes was held out of the action for precautionary reasons, but the expectation is that he will play this week.
So, as we get a week deeper into the preseason, I wanted to move a little farther down our draft board and see how the next three rookies are doing thus far in their very young careers.
GERALD HODGES, LB
After spending a fourth round selection on the fairly celebrated Penn State linebacker, many Vikings fans were excited about seeing him compete for a starting job on the weakside. Deals with Marvin Mitchell and Desmond Bishop might just delay that from being a year-one reality. On Friday, Hodges was a part of a third string unit that didn’t hold up very well, but both Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman went out of their way to praise him following the contest. Spielman, however, stressed that both Hodges and Michael Mauti had put things on tape that weren’t so great and that they needed to learn from. Hodges ended the game with three tackles, including one for a loss, and appears to be on the fast track to a special teams role and backup linebacker duties.
JEFF LOCKE, P
Chris Kluwe saw an unprecedented amount of support from fans and members of the Minnesota media when the Vikings elected to use a fifth round selection on UCLA punter Jeff Locke, but for those that still harbor hard feelings it seems like just a matter of time before “Kluwe who?” becomes a tagline during the 2013 campaign. Locke was rumored to have boomed some ridiculous punts during training camp, some in the 80 yard range, but we didn’t get to see that on display against Houston. Instead, we saw some mediocre punting (39.2 yard average on 5 attempts) and a guy plenty capable of holding the ball for placekicker Blair Walsh. Locke did manage to pin Houston inside their own 10 on two occasions, which is also encouraging.
“We’re trying to work a little bit with the directional punting with him,” Spielman said of Locke’s performance. “Where he did shine was in those pooch situations where he does that Aussie-style kick. The next time you’re watching it, watch the flight of the ball because it almost has a reverse spin on it, almost like a kickoff.
JEFF BACA, G
The Vikings have a plethora of young offensive lineman that are vying for just a couple of vacant roster spots and it can be hard for a casual observer to differentiate between these guys, especially when the line as a whole performs as poorly as they did against Houston. Still, it appeared as if (and a number of camp reporters seem to agree) that sixth round selection Jeff Baca perhaps currently holds the upper hand in earning one of those remaining spots. Baca has good size and a certain toughness about him, and a day doesn’t seem to go by where he isn’t noted as a standout in practice, and that included today where he man-handled tackle Anthony McCloud in pass protection.
I’d be very surprised if Baca doesn’t end up with the primary backup spot to the guard positions.