When the Minnesota Vikings drafted Eric Kendricks in the second round last year, there were a lot of middle linebacker questions with the Vikings. The position had been a revolving door for several years and the hope was that Kendricks would supply some stability.
One season later, Kendricks has made the position his own and was the first rookie since the Vikings’ inaugural season to lead the team in tackles – joining Rip Hawkins in 1961 as the only player to make that distinction.
Several veteran players have praised Kendricks for his work ethic and production, something that has been a goal and source of pride for him.
“It’s awesome,” Kendricks said. “It’s what I work for – the respect of my teammates. You couldn’t ask for any more.”
Kendricks was hard on himself in the way of a self-assessment, but when he watched his game on film he was pleased with much of what he saw.
He felt he adapted quickly to Mike Zimmer’s defense and, along with college roommate Anthony Barr, gives the Vikings a pair of young linebackers that can be an anchor of the Vikings defense for years to come.
“I thought I did some good things,” Kendricks said. “I got better as the year went on. But there are a lot of things I left on the field that I want to come back next year and complete.”
One of the questions that face any rookie is the assumption that rookies hit a wall late in the season, as the cumulative impact of the NFL schedule takes a toll on their bodies in their first season playing a 20-game schedule or more (including the preseason).
Kendricks was adamant late in the season that the questions of rookies wearing down doesn’t apply to him, as evidenced Sunday when he was making plays sideline to sideline and led the Vikings with eight tackles.
“There’s no rookie wall for me,” Kendricks said. “I still have a lot left in the tank right now. I’m going to use that as motivation to come back strong.”
Kendricks has seen his confidence increase during the season, but has also come to realize that being a playoff team doesn’t come easily and nothing is guaranteed moving forward.
While he was disappointed with how the Seattle game ended, he isn’t taking it for granted that the Vikings will punch their playoff ticket every year. Winning in the NFL isn’t handed to anyone. It’s earned and Kendricks has learned early on that the Vikings have to play at a high level to be one of the NFC’s playoff teams.
“I’m well aware of how tough the NFL is and how tough it is to win,” Kendricks said. “I was a part of a lot of these games I fought to help win, so I know how tough it is. I know how tough it is to win and I know how much hard work you put in. We’re going to keep putting the hard work in.”
Kendricks had a strong rookie season that he is hoping to use as a springboard to the future. Being surrounded by a slew of young players on the Vikings defense – from Everson Griffen to Sharrif Floyd to Barr to Harrison Smith to Xavier Rhodes to Trae Waynes – the Vikings have the young nucleus in place to make a long-term impact on the NFC.
Kendricks admitted he is still learning the nuances of the Mike Zimmer defense, but he is prepared to continue his growth and, considering the young talent the Vikings have on their defense, the future looks extremely bright for Minnesota football moving forward.
“It’s very encouraging,” Kendricks said. “We have a lot of guys who are hungry and a lot of guys willing to work. We’re working with each other and putting the team above themselves. That’s a winning formula.”