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Hodges named Vikings' middle man

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings' starting middle linebacker spot this decade already has been held by E.J. Henderson, Jasper Brinkley, Erin Henderson, Audie Cole and Brinkley again. Now, it's Gerald Hodges' turn.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - The Minnesota Vikings’ starting middle linebacker spot this decade already has been held by E.J. Henderson, Jasper Brinkley, Erin Henderson, Audie Cole and Brinkley again. Now, it’s Gerald Hodges’ turn.
Hodges said Tuesday he has won the job, winning a competition with Cole and rookie Eric Kendricks.
“That’s the way it’s looking, yes sir,” Hodges said about getting the call for Monday’s regular-season opener at San Francisco. “I feel great. I feel excited.”
Cole confirmed the move. It marks the second straight year that Cole, who got five starts to close 2013, has been beaten for the job in the preseason.
Also Tuesday, Robert Blanton confirmed he has won the starting strong safety job. That move was expected, with Blanton holding off Antone Exum.
Blanton and Hodges were the only two starters used in last Thursday’s exhibition finale at Tennessee. Blanton said he played “all right” in the preseason but expects to do more.
“I’m trying to be the best,” he said. “I want to be a perfectionist.”
Cole started the first two preseason games at middle linebacker, followed by Kendricks for one and Hodges for the final two. Coach Mike Zimmer turned his attention to Hodges, previously an outside linebacker exclusively, on Aug. 1.
Zimmer declined Monday to announce his choice, and he was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
“The goal is just to help my team and do whatever the coaches need me to do to go out and get a victory,” Hodges said of Monday’s opener. “I’m excited to get this season going.”
Since E.J. Henderson retired after the 2011 season, the Vikings have been looking for stability at the position. Brinkley held the job in 2012 and 2014. Erin Henderson, E.J.’s brother, had it for most of 2013 until Cole took over.
“I’m just going to do whatever they ask me to do,” Cole said. “That’s how it is.”
According to Pro Football Focus ratings, Hodges had by far the best preseason of the three candidates. The third-year man had an overall plus-2.8 rating to minus-0.3 for Cole and minus-0.7 for Kendricks.
“I think he’s done a good job,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “Hodges is a very instinctual player. That’s what allows him to make so many plays. He really does play with his instincts. He obviously brings a passion to the game, and loves the game of football. So he brings a lot of excitement.”
While Hodges never has started an NFL regular-season game at middle linebacker, he does have seven starts on the outside. All came last year filling in when Barr and Chad Greenway were injured.
SULLIVAN MAY SIT
The Vikings are making contingency plans in the event starting center John Sullivan can’t play in Monday’s opener at San Francisco.
Sullivan hasn’t practiced since Aug. 18, having again sat out Tuesday because of back spasms. If he can’t play, he would be replaced in the lineup by Joe Berger.
“I think (Berger) will do well if he has to go,” offensive coordinator Norv Turner said.
Turner went so far as to speculate what might happen if the versatile Berger starts but doesn’t remain in the game or is needed at another spot on the line. Zac Kerin plays both guard and center.
“I’d be comfortable if Sully couldn’t go and we got in a position where Zac was our center in the game,” Turner said. “I think he would handle it well.”
Recently acquired Jeremiah Sirles can play all five spots on the offensive line and spent some time at center in the preseason with San Diego. However, Turner didn’t address having to perhaps go that deep.
Sullivan has started 57 straight regular-season games. He last missed a game Oct. 23, 2011, at Green Bay.
Zach Line missed his second straight practice because of an undisclosed injury. If Line, who had his left knee wrapped Monday, has to miss any time, Turner said tight end Rhett Ellison can play some fullback. The option also exists for the Vikings to call Blake Renaud up from the practice squad.
Returning Tuesday was defensive tackle Shamar Stephen, who practiced for the first time since Aug. 12. Stephen, who had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, said he only did individual work during the session and wouldn’t speculate on his chances of playing against the 49ers.
“That’s up to coach (Zimmer) to decide, but I’m just working my way in and seeing what happens,” he said. “I’m just trying to work on getting everything right and being able to play and help my team.”

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