Eric Kendricks certainly had the play of the practice on Saturday with a diving interception. It started with the Minnesota Vikings second-year linebacker lined up in the middle of the field during a portion of the team’s 11-on-11 drills.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater dropped back to pass and saw 6-foot-6 tight end Kyle Rudolph crossing the middle of the field, where the 6-foot Kendricks was covering. Usually that would be a matchup favoring the offense, but not this time around.
Bridgewater threw the ball for Rudolph, but Kendricks was able to dive in front of the tight end and come down with the interception. The crowd clearly loved the play as it cheered from the stands one field away.
“That’s a hell of a play,” head coach Mike Zimmer said of Kendricks’ interception. “He is so much more comfortable at this point than he was a year ago in training camp. Last year it was like he had too much coffee to drink. Now he’s settled down. I think he feels really comfortable. He’s making the calls really good. He sees things really good, and he’s an instinctive guy anyways. He looks much-improved to me now.”
Kendricks admitted throughout his rookie season that he was doing everything too fast and that he needed to slow down. It was a bit of an ordeal for him as he tried to process everything that was being thrown at him, but one can definitely tell the difference.
Now, instead of focusing on himself all the time, he is able to focus more on his opponents as a way to get indications of what they are trying to do.
“Last year it was more just getting adjusted to my rookie year, getting the swing of things, and now I’m just learning what the offense is doing,” he explained. “Little keys I can focus on that might make me have a jump and stuff like that.”
Being comfortable in what he is doing on the field also allows him to let his natural athleticism to take over more often, which should result in more plays like the interception he had in Saturday’s practice. It’s a combination of preparation and reaction.
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“I think that’s just a little bit of what you can do yourself,” Kendricks said. “I just tried to make a play.”
If the first two days of training are any indication, fans should get used to a new and improved Kendricks, which is saying a lot since he led the team in tackles a year ago. He looks more relaxed out on the field and that should continue to lead to some impressive plays by the young linebacker.