After the Minnesota Vikings chose not to re-sign Jasper Brinkley this offseason, the team’s middle linebacker spot went up for grabs. Eric Kendricks was the Vikings’ second-round draft pick and has a chance to be the starting middle linebacker at the beginning of the season.
Throughout organized team activities Kendricks took second-team reps while Audie Cole played middle linebacker with the first team. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has said multiple times that Kendricks is a talented player, but also explained that it takes a little while for younger linebackers to learn the position in the NFL.
“(Kendricks) has probably made the same mistake a couple times” Zimmer said. “It’s hard for linebackers with alignments and different coverages and different things they have to do because they’re involved with so many different things with the run and the pass, so they have a lot of things on their plate. And with a young guy who has to make calls, who has to make adjustments and checks and the things we ask of our linebackers, it will take a little while, but … I’m more encouraged by the things he’s done I guess that’s the best way to say it.”
The rookie has even admitted that there have been multiple times during OTAs where his head was spinning as he tried to understand everything, but he is trying to work hard and learn from the mistakes that he has made.
“I’ve had plenty of those moments this whole camp, but I learn from the mistakes,” Kendricks said. “I try not to make the same mistake twice and I try to work on my habits every day. So as long as I’m breaking bad habits then I’m getting better.”
Veteran linebacker Chad Greenway said Kendricks is a hard worker, which should help eliminate the mistakes.
“He’s a great kid. He works hard. At this point, it’s hard to really tell what kind of a player he is without really putting the pads on, but he’s a heady guy,” Greenway said. “He fits right into the group. It’s going to be a good fit for us.”
Even though there have been some difficulties for Kendricks this offseason, one area that has seemed to come easily for him is pass coverage. He is primarily working with the second-team defense, but he does get first-team reps when they play in a nickel formation.
Kendricks feels very comfortable defending the pass, but there could be such a thing as “too comfortable.”
“I’m maybe sometimes a little too comfortable (in pass coverage),” he said. “I kind of want to cover too much too fast. I’m not patient enough, so they’re just trying to get my eyes right and slow me down a little bit and not be so anxious. Realize that I have help in certain situations and others, and know when I have to play aggressively. So I mean I’m very comfortable in coverage and I’m just trying to get better as I go.”
Zimmer has clearly been happy with Kendricks’ pass coverage abilities since he continues to put him in against the first-team offense when the defense is in a nickel formation. And the coach even said that all the things that make the linebacker good in pass coverage make him good in other areas of his game, too.
“He’s a good athlete, so he’s got good quickness, very good acceleration, he can run fast and he’s got instincts,” Zimmer said. “So that leads to being good in a lot of places, not just pass coverage.”
Patience, improvement keys for Kendricks
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