Kendricks: First start was ‘nerve-wracking’
Eric Kendricks, the Minnesota Vikings’ second-round pick, made his first start at middle linebacker Saturday night, but he sees plenty of room for improvement and head coach Mike Zimmer cautioned about reading much into Kendricks starting a preseason game.
Veteran Audie Cole had started the first two preseason games for the Vikings, but Kendricks was getting his first crack with the first-team defense in a 20-12 win over the Oakland Raiders.
“Yeah, I can’t mess up,” Kendricks said with a laugh when asked about playing with the first-team defense. “All the veterans are looking at me to make the calls. It was nerve-wracking a little bit, but I’m very comfortable in those situations so it was fine.”
While the competition for the starting middle linebacker spot remains open, Kendricks could be the eventual starter there. Gerald Hodges and Cole are squarely in the mix, too, but if Kendricks would start, it would pair him with 2014 first-round pick Anthony Barr to place a pair of former UCLA Bruins in the center of the Vikings defense.
Communication is one of the key elements for a middle linebacker.
“It was good. Getting the calls is tough for anybody, especially a rookie,” Barr said of Kendricks. “It’s hard to hear sometimes, but he was getting the calls out great. I don’t think we had any issues on that front.”
Kendricks agreed, saying that making the calls was “fine.”
“They put it on me. They were giving me the calls and I was relaying them fine,” he said. “We get all the checks and everything like that. We got it down. The mental standpoint was alright.”
Kendricks was satisfied with his performance, but not thrilled.
“I feel I did alright. It was hard for me to get the rhythm of the game,” he said. “I made some mistakes, but I also made some good plays. But it was a pretty slow start for me.
“I didn’t get the rhythm right off the bat. It wasn’t like I did anything too bad.”
Zimmer, defensive coordinator George Edwards, linebackers coach Adam Zimmer and General Manager Rick Spielman watch tape together of the middle linebacker performances throughout the preseason on Sunday.
“As far as the other night, he fitted one thing wrong and then they got to basically the same play again later and he got it right after we corrected him on the sideline,” Mike Zimmer said.
“Actually he punched guys pretty good the other night, probably better than I anticipated after watching all of the preseason.”
Kendricks learned he would be making his first start last week, but he said that didn’t alter his approach.
“It’s another game to me,” he said. “I just prepare for every game the same and try to have the same mentality going into every game.”
Kendricks played in 20 snaps and finished with one tackle, but the competition at the position is ongoing. Zimmer said he has decided who will start this Saturday but wasn’t going to announce it yet because he hadn’t talked to the players about it.
“Right now, I wouldn’t read too much into any of this stuff,” Zimmer said about where players are at during the preseason. “Like we played Kendricks to start the game at (middle linebacker), then we played Hodges and then we played Audie. We’re just looking at different combinations. We’re trying to get Kendricks going against guys that are a little bit probably better than the guys he’d been playing against. We’re just moving all guys around. You never know what’s going to happen.”
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