When General Manager Trent Baalke traded for Gerald Hodges in October, many hoped he would quickly replace current starter Michael Wilhoite. Hodges definitely has potential - he was named a "Secret Superstar" by Pro Football Focus during the offseason and finished with a top-ten overall grade, albeit at the outside linebacker position.
Wilhoite re-injured his ankle after just seven snaps, providing the first extended look at Hodges in a San Francisco 49ers uniform. There is a report Wilhoite is done for the year with a stress fracture in his ankle, and we are working to confirm that. In the meantime, Gerald Hodges could be in line for a lot of work. In his first game of extended action, he made an early impact. On just his seventh snap, Hodges makes something happen on a designed run blitz.
Early in the game Hodges repeatedly blitzed effectively. While it won't show up on the stat sheet, one of the blitzes forced running back Ka'Deem Carey into a holding penalty, nullifying a Bear’s completion. However, Hodges couldn’t just blitz forever, and as the game wore on, he moved off the line into a more traditional linebacker spot. The more he played off the line, the more he seemed to disappear into the defense. He didn’t play extremely poorly, but he didn’t shine either.
Playing off the line meant Hodges had to deal with guards attacking him with second level blocks. He mostly acquitted himself well, but inconsistent technique sometimes allowed Chicago’s guards to neutralize him. Hodges often used a strike-and-release technique so fend off oncoming linemen. By striking the oncoming blocker with both hands, a linebacker can maintain his ground, and prevent the oncoming blocker from getting into the defender’s body. When the backer is ready to disengage, he can tug the offensive player down and rip across the blocker’s body to get free.
Here, Hodges maintained his base, executed the move well, and helped make the tackle.
Sometimes Hodges attacked off balance and wound up on the ground or with a guard in his chest. When the guard engages, Hodges is pushed back and then moves off his left leg, allowing himself to get turned.
As the game wore on Hodges made more positive plays, mostly because defensive coordinator Eric Mangini went back to attacking the line with Hodges. On two blitzes in the fourth quarter, Hodges generates a pressure and a tackle-for-loss. Hodges’ lateral and short area quickness allow him to shoot the gap, avoid blockers, and still make the tackle.
Overall, Hodges flashed the potential that made him a fourth-round draft pick. Especially when up close to the line, or when he blitzed, he was a disruptive force. His athleticism showed, especially in pursuit. When he played more of a traditional inside linebacker role he was a little slow to react, failed to get off blocks, and sometimes got lost in the wash.
With Wilhoite being a known quantity on defense, it would make sense for the defensive staff to play Hodges and see if they’ve found a long term answer along side NaVorro Bowman. If this news about Wilhoite’s ankle injury ends up being accurate, it will allow Hodges the time to show the same kind potential he flashed at the end of his time in Minnesota.