With rookie Eric Kendricks drawing the starting assignment at middle linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings in Saturday’s third preseason game, the second-round draft pick seemed to be inching closer to securing to the starting spot many believed he would fill.
After several weeks of playing behind Audie Cole, Kendricks was getting his chance. Then Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Monday the team had decided on a starter for this week, who could potentially keep the job. Zimmer withheld names because he hadn’t told the team yet.
“I’m just trying to get through this week,” Zimmer said, indicating he knew who would start Saturday’s preseason game at Dallas. “We’ll see, if it goes good this week, then maybe we will go with it the rest of the way. If guys are playing good, they’ll keep playing and if they’re not…I just haven’t told the players yet so I don’t want to tell you.”
It appeared Kendricks was finally getting the job he was drafted to fill.
Not so fast.
Andrew Krammer from 1500ESPN reports Gerald Hodges saw most of the reps at middle linebacker in Monday’s practice.
Gerald Hodges took most of the reps at middle linebacker. Eric Kendricks rotated in, swapped w/ Greenway in nickel next to Barr. #Vikings
— Andrew Krammer (@Andrew_Krammer) August 24, 2015
Kendricks started for the first time last weekend and previous starter, Audie Cole, was third in line in the middle during Saturday’s win. Hodges got his first game action as a middle linebacker during the middle two quarters, playing parts of several series as the middle linebacker in the base defense.
Hodges ended up playing 26 snaps on defense in last week’s game, second among all linebackers to the 33 snaps played by Brandon Watts. Hodges was credited with three tackles.
Kendricks played 20 snaps, including several in the nickel defense where he seems to be a preferred option with the No. 1 nickel unit. Kendricks had one tackle.
“I think he did good,” Zimmer said of Kendricks in last week’s game. “Yesterday, (assistant general manager) George (Paton) and (linebackers coach) Adam (Zimmer) and (general manager) Rick (Spielman) and myself sat down and put all of the middle linebackers on the tape and watched every play, just to kind of get a gauge, make sure we’re all seeing the same thing with where we are at; I mean, throughout the whole course of the preseason. As far as the other night, (Kendricks) fitted one thing wrong and then they got basically the same play again later and he got it right after we corrected him on the sideline, but for the most part he did alright.”
Zimmer said Kendricks “punched guys pretty good the other night, probably better than I anticipated after watching all of preseason.”
Cole had been the starter in the first two preseason games, but he was relegated to third in line on Saturday and played 16 snaps.
Hodges had played mostly on the outside until recently. Trying to solve the starting spot between Anthony Barr and Chad Greenway, Zimmer is giving Hodges a chance. Hodges is an athletic linebacker who can be a big hitter as well. In 14 games and seven starts last season, Hodges had 66 tackles, seven pass deflections and an interception.
Zimmer said he has decided who will start this week but there’s a good chance the player could keep the spot. The competition between Kendricks and, now, Hodges, should be one to watch.