EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Vikings will start a different player at middle linebacker for the third straight preseason game — unless they open in the nickel.
Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Tuesday that the team plans to start Gerald Hodges at the "Mike" spot in Minnesota's base defense when the Vikings visit the Cowboys at 6 p.m. Saturday.
"We're going with Hodges in the base and (Eric) Kendricks in the sub," Zimmer said. "The first week, it was more learning (for Hodges) because it was different alignments, so he wasn't perfect with all that stuff, but when he' played, he looked good."
The Vikings opened the preseason with Audie Cole at the starting middle linebacker position against Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay. The team tried Kendricks in the role against Oakland to see the second-round pick go against more first-team players and will continue evaluating this week.
Back to the Big D: The trip to Dallas will mark a homecoming of sorts for Zimmer (DBs coach 1994-99, defensive coordinator 2000-06), Vikings Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner (same role 1991-93), Defensive Coordinator George Edwards (assistant 1998-2001) and defensive line coach Andre Patterson (2000-02).
It will also mark the return to Dallas for the following players with past experience on the Cowboys: Terence Newman (2003-12), Joe Berger (2006-08), Andrew Sendejo (2010), Chase Ford (part of 2012) and Caesar Rayford (part of 2013).
Adrian Peterson is one of nine players with a hometown in Texas. Although Peterson isn't going to play, he does have a meal plan in mind.
"It's special any time you go home," Peterson said. "I'm looking forward to some great barbecue down there in Dallas. We were able to get some two years ago so hopefully my guy Craig can make it happen this Friday as well. It's actually not a restaurant. It's kind of the backyard grill. He comes down every year and barbecues the whole weekend of Adrian Peterson Day. I've never had any complaints."
Keen vision: Newman played four seasons for Zimmer in Dallas and another two in Cincinnati before joining the Vikings this offseason. Now preparing for his 13th season, there's not much Newman hasn't seen, and he's been displaying keen knowledge of the intricacies of the game.
Zimmer mentioned a play from last week when Newman was covering Mike Wallace and adjusted based on what he quickly observed.
"He was on Wallace and he got into a position and I didn't like it, and I said, 'Why are we doing that?,' He said, 'Well, he raised up a little bit as he was running down the field.' I have to replay the tape to see that, and he can see that during the play while it was happening. I said, 'Did you tell Wallace yet?' He said, 'Not yet.' I said, 'Make sure you tell him.'
No game plan:Many consider the games played during the third week of the full preseason slate as dress rehearsals for the season opener, but Zimmer and Turner said they don't intend to develop more of a game plan this week.
"Everybody wants the game plan, I've never game planned for a preseason game," Zimmer said. "We're going to go out and play until I feel comfortable with how things are. It's really different. I'm not approaching this one any different than last year."
Turner said he likes the way Zimmer is having the team focus on itself during the preseason. The Vikings will take a closer look at Dallas during Thursday's session, but it's not nearly the level of preparations for a regular season opponent.
"I just want to keep getting better," Turner said. "People that know me know that we don't do a lot in the preseason, in terms of scheme and game planning and trying to trick them. We're trying to work on fundamentals and basics. Like I said, I just expect us to run the ball well. I think there were points last year where we got to where we were running pretty good, I think we will run it a lot better than we did last year."
Long wait for short TD: A 1-yard touchdown is the shortest a player can score, but it was well worth the extended wait for Blake Renaud, who played linebacker in high school in Concord, California, and at Boise State.
Renaud signed as an undrafted free agent with Minnesota this offseason to play fullback and got the ball after a 21-yard interception return by Brian Peters.
"Pop Warner (before high school) would be the last time since I got into the end zone," Renaud said. "I realize why people have so much fun on offense now. That was a pretty cool moment."
Renaud said the transition has been challenging and rewarding, admitting when he first arrived for rookie minicamp that he internally thought, 'What did I get myself into?'
"I haven't seen an offensive playbook like this one ever, so it definitely was an eye-opener," Renaud said. "I basically bother (fullback) Zach (Line) every day, asking him and (running backs coach) Kirby (Wilson) questions every day. It's definitely been hard, but it's worth the challenge."
Turning to tunes: The Vikings practiced to music for the second straight day as Tuesday marked the month anniversary of when players reported to open 2015 training camp in Mankato. Even though players returned to Winter Park for practices last week, there's still a grind mode of training camp that Zimmer said he wanted to help players cut through.
"We had the extra week, so this week I felt like we were dragging a little bit," Zimmer said. "I just wanted to change some things up. That's why we went short yesterday and put on some music."
Zimmer admitted he didn't know where the playlist, which was heavy on hip hop, originated.
"I just said, 'Get music,' " Zimmer said.
Practice notes: The defensive backs appeared to get into a groove early, with Newman and Xavier Rhodes each recording interceptions on the first few plays of team drills. Marcus Sherels also tipped one that Cole intercepted when he was in the nickel.
DeMarcus Van Dyke defended a double move by Stefon Diggs about as well as anyone has, and DBs were boisterous each time a teammate won a one-on-one.