Vikings rookie Eric Kendricks has spent most of his life as a fan of the game of football. From the time he was a kid, he has followed the game and the players and teams that have helped make it the most popular sport on the planet.
For almost the entirety of that time, he has watched Peyton Manning do what he does like few others. Manning was drafted by Indianapolis two months after Kendricks’ sixth birthday and has been a fixture in the NFL ever since. On Sunday, Kendricks will meet Manning for the first time – he’s hoping multiple times behind the line of scrimmage.
In his first season in the NFL, Kendricks is getting to meet many of the greats that he idolized growing up. From former players who are still involved with the NFL to teammates to opponents, it seems like every week he’s meeting players that he has watched and admired for years.
“It’s becoming very surreal at this point, meeting people and playing against people that I’ve considered to be some of the greats of the NFL,” Kendricks said. “Peyton Manning is clearly one of those guys because he’s been playing since the time I first started watching football as a kid.”
One of the things he has always been fascinated with as it pertains to Manning is the elaborate changes he appears to be making at the line of scrimmage most plays when he is operating the offense. As a defensive player, he has watched intently as defenders move and adjust based on what Manning calls out or points to.
There are two very different schools of thought on what exactly Manning is doing with his pre-snap machinations. Some former teammates have said most of the calls are legitimate changes that are calling for a variant of the play that was called. Other former teammates claim that they are 80 to 90 percent fake and that Manning does it just to get opposing players to overthink and take their eyes off the prize, if only for a second – which is all Manning needs to clear a throwing lane.
Kendricks said he isn’t going to get caught up in the trickery than Manning brings. Let him do all the pre-snap barking he wants. Kendricks is going to let his eyes do his thinking for him, not his ears.
“I’m not going to get caught up in that,” Kendricks said. “I’m just going to be focused on what I’ve been coached up to do and read what I see. He’s going to do his thing – calling out checks that may be false or may be true. My job is to read my keys and do what I’m taught.”
Kendricks admits to having a respectful admiration for Manning, but he has never been a fan of the Broncos or the Colts. In fact, it wasn’t until this year that Kendricks has become a fan of any team – his college alma mater, the UCLA Bruins.
Although he had a voracious appetite for watching NFL football and was a fan of certain players, he was never a fan of a team. He just loved the game as a whole, not any of the 32 franchises.
“I never had a favorite team,” Kendricks said. “I was a fan of the sport, never a specific team. I’m not sure why that is, but I never associated with a team as a favorite of mine. It’s a weird feeling because the first team I’ve ever followed like fan happened this year. I’m a fan of the guys back at UCLA. It’s crazy because, when I watch their games, I’m cheering for them and I’ve never had that feeling before.”
Part of the transition from college to the NFL is that players a kid looked up to are now their peers. Manning holds a high spot on that list of players Kendricks holds in high regard. But on Sunday they will be on opposite sides of the field and he will be looking to come after Manning with bad intentions in mind.
Will he seek Manning out to shake his hand and tell him how much he has appreciated what he’s done in the world of football? If he gets the chance, he likely will, but it will have to be after the game is over – which will likely be the last time that Manning and Kendricks will meet on the gridiron.
“I’ve thought about that,” Kendricks said of a potential postgame introduction and handshake. “If I do, it probably will be after the game. I don’t want to do much talking before the game because I’ll be getting prepared to go after him and don’t want any distractions prior to that.”