‘Rookie mistakes’ aside, Kendricks improving

Rookie linebacker Eric Kendricks said he is still making mistakes in some areas, but a few facets of his game are improving. Plus, notes from the Vikings’ Friday practice.

The Vikings have been in the process of overhauling their linebacker corps since Mike Zimmer and his staff arrived and the pipeline has gone directly through UCLA. Last year, it was Anthony Barr who made an impact at outside linebacker. This year, much the same is expected from middle linebacker Eric Kendricks.

A week into training camp, Kendricks is happy with the progress he is making but realizes he is taking the first baby steps of his NFL career.

“I’m starting to pick up concepts and run plays, reacting a little quicker to things I see,” Kendricks said. “But at the end of the day, I’m still making a lot of rookie mistakes. My alignments are showing a little improvement every day, but I’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

Kendricks has been schooling up on the Vikings defense since he arrived in Minnesota this spring. At times, he has found the amount of information being thrown his way to be a little overwhelming, but he understands he is a cog in the machine and that he doesn’t have to do anything more than his assignment on a given play.

At times, learning Zimmer’s defense can be akin to learning a foreign language, but he knows he isn’t alone out on the field and that his teammates are more than willing to help in his transition.

“Picking up the terminology and setting up alignments can be a little tough, but the guys are helping out a lot,” Kendricks said. “Once you realize that everyone is working together and doing their job, it becomes a lot easier.”

Helping with his understanding of the defense is learning the nuances and elements of Zimmer’s pressure-based defense. He is excited about the prospects that the defense can bring with its diversity. As he looks at it, if it’s confusing for a rookie, he can only imagine the havoc it can bring to an opposing offense.

“What makes this defense fun is that everybody is doing a little bit of everything at all times,” Kendricks said. “You never can predict who’s doing what and I can only imagine that offenses are going to have a hard time figuring it out because you just don’t know where the pressure will be coming from next.”

Perhaps the best thing Kendricks has going for himself is that his old college teammate, Barr, is by his side. Reunited in the NFL, Kendricks is looking forward to the prospect of continuing his career alongside his good friend and the prospects that both of them have envisioned since Kendricks’ name was called on draft weekend and the impossible dream of being teammates again became a reality.

“He’s been a big help in getting me prepared,” Kendricks said. “He’s been in the system for a year and during last season we told each other it would be fun playing together in this defense – never thinking it would happen. We’ve talked a lot about the different things this defense can do. Fortunately, coming from UCLA prepared both of us well for the challenges this defense brings.”

  • Zimmer said one of the focuses of his defense that is showing up in training camp is the increased size, speed and athleticism of his linebackers. He said he has been impressed with what he has seen in the first few days of camp.

  • In pass-rush drills, Zimmer kept to his word and continued to mix and match individual matchups so he could see how his offensive and defensive linemen adapt to the differing styles of the players they go up against.

  • Zimmer said much of the early portion of camp has been devoted to trying to define niches for players, saying, “We’re just trying to define roles for guys right now. What can this guy do for us? Where can he help us? Those kinds of things.”

  • The team plans to install its red zone packages at Saturday’s practices.

  • Stefon Diggs continues to be one of the storylines of the first week of camp. He continued to wow the crowds, making a couple of eye-popping catches.

  • The catch of the day came in a very unintended way. QB Shaun Hill zipped a pass that was behind Adam Thielen, but he got a hand on the ball, tipped it into the air and it was caught 10 yards downfield by Jarius Wright.

  • Rookie DE Danielle Hunter looked sharp, drawing impressive reviews from Zimmer, who noted that he is just 20 years old and looks even better than the 19-year-old the Vikings scouted last year at LSU.

  • Another defensive player who was disruptive in one-on-one line drills was defensive end Caesar Rayford. He blew up a few plays, to the point that a couple offensive linemen he went up against got a little chippy about it.

  • Cordarrelle Patterson brought the crowd to its feet with a pair of spectacular catches during the deep passing sideline drills.

  • Jerick McKinnon took some snaps at wide receiver Friday, which Zimmer attributed to trying to improve his route running and get him more comfortable catching passes in space.

  • The team shared punt return duties between Diggs, Marcus Sherels and Adam Thielen.

  • The Vikings will have their annual night practice from 7:15 to 9:15 p.m. at Blakeslee Field on the Minnesota State, Mankato campus.

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