(photo by Chris Price)

(photo by Chris Price)

Last season, Gerald Hodges met criticism for a lack of focus. This season is a whole new story.

There has never been any doubt as to Hodges’ athletic ability. When Minnesota drafted him in the fourth round in 2013, Hodges was coming off his junior season at Penn State. That year he started all 11 games, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches and ESPN.com and second-team accolades by the media. He also was named a Pro Football Weekly honorable-mention. Hodges led the team with 106 tackles (60 solo) and ranked in the top 15 in the Big Ten in hits (eighth) and sacks (14th tie with 4.5).

At 6’2”, 243 lbs, Hodges is a machine of a linebacker. He is a safety convert, which brings its own set of advantages. However, Hodges didn’t stand out as fans hoped he would as a rookie. In an Aug. 3 interview, he explained to ESPN’s Ben Goessling part of the problem:

“Last year, I don’t think I came in as focused [as I should have been],” Hodges said. “I was coming from the combine. I wasn’t studying my plays in as much detail as I’m doing this year. I think last year I was focusing on too much instead of focusing on my job.”

Coming into the 2014 season, Hodges has made some adjustments—including working to be in better physical shape this offseason. “I just [want] to be as healthy and in shape as I can be,” Hodges said. “I feel as if I’m ready to run around on the field more effectively, able to get to the ball.”

Hodges expressed a confidence in playing the nickel defense, and says his team mentality has improved. “Each day I come in and work hard […] work on improving the team and improving myself as well.”

The 23-year-old also shows enthusiasm about the new coaching system in place, specifically having a head coach who specializes in defense. Hodges said the following:

“Things look great [with Zimmer] so far. Coach has come in here and is utilizing everyone he has – kicker, nose guard, lineman, he’s using everyone. He is coming in here with a great attitude and trying to find the absolute best fit for the team. He’s trying to find the best players to help the team win a championship.”

Hodges has every intent of making an impact on this football team, and he certainly impressed fans Friday night during Minnesota’s first preseason game. The linebacker rumbled on defense, tying for a team-high five combined tackles. His highlight-reel moment, though, came when he blocked Oakland’s field goal attempt. TCF Bank Stadium held 51,752 fans that night, and the crowd went crazy at at the play.

Hodges became the first Viking to block a preseason field goal since 1999. “[Gerald] did a great job,” special teams coach Mike Priefer said. “He got through the gap, got both feet on the ground, and then went up. […] you need to jump to get those kicks, and he did just that.”

“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.”

A general consensus among Vikings fans is that the block will not be his first and only. The regular season is just around the corner, and Hodges is ready to roll.