The Minnesota Vikings ended up having one of the best defenses in 2015 and one of the key contributors on that defense was Eric Kendricks, despite being a rookie. Even though that is how the season ended, it is not how it started.
The Vikings selected Kendricks in the second round of the 2015 draft and from the first day of the Vikings’ rookie minicamp he showed how valuable he was in pass coverage. He was able to carry that performance all through the offseason workouts, training camp and the preseason and he eventually earned himself the role as one of the team’s two linebackers in their nickel package on Day 1.
However, he was not the team’s Day 1 middle linebacker in the base defense. That job belonged to Gerald Hodges, at least for the first four weeks of the season. The Vikings then traded Hodges to the San Francisco 49ers during the bye week, gave Kendricks the job of an every-down linebacker and never looked back.
Kendricks ended the season as the team leader in tackles with 92, despite missing two games with a rib injury, while also adding four sacks and a deflected pass.
Despite everything he did during his rookie season, Kendricks was not entirely happy with the way the season went. He sets very high goals for himself and for his team, and while he realizes he did a lot of good things as a rookie he still fell short of his expectations.
“Looking back at it, I always set goals and I fell short of my goals, but you look back at it and how hard I worked and everything that I accomplished and I did alright,” he explained. “But I’m definitely not complacent and my ultimate goal is to win a championship, so we fell short. So that’s what I’m working for this next year.”
Winning a championship is a tall task for any team, but the Vikings defense seems to be on the right track to being capable of carrying their team to one. They were a top-five scoring defense at the end of the 2015 season and that is a huge increase from where they were at just two years prior. They also proved that they perform their best on the biggest stages, holding the Seattle Seahawks to just 10 points and 226 total yards during their only playoff game of the season.
The question then becomes this: Where can the defense continue to improve? If you ask Kendricks, it is communication through every level of the defense.
“You can always work on communication, no matter what,” he said. “If everybody’s on the same page, everything’s easier. Our mentality is awesome. I feel like everyone’s mindset is there, so I would just say communication.”
As the middle linebacker, Kendricks knows that the communication goes through him, so that has been his main focus during his second offseason as a professional football player. He admitted that it helps having a year of experience in the same defense under his belt, but he believes communication is going to be something he will be learning and trying to master.
“Just continuing to further my communication with the defense and understanding everything that’s going on, a lot of moving parts,” he said. “I’m always learning.”
Kendricks certainly set high expectations as to what should be expected of him after a successful rookie campaign, but it seems no expectation will be higher than the one he sets on himself. He has remained driven throughout the offseason and has kept the same mindset he had as a rookie to always be learning.
There are not only high expectations set on Kendricks for this coming season, but the Vikings defense as well. He knows that, as the middle linebacker, the defense flows through him and he appears to be ready to take on the challenge.