Kennedy gets a grasp on his opportunities

Defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy still hasn't found career stability, but he's working toward it with a solid start to his seventh NFL season. The backup has been one of the most productive pass rushers in limited opportunities and talked about his growing confidence with the Vikings. Plus, the offensive linemen took part in an entertaining dinner earlier this week.

To no one's surprise, Jared Allen easily has the team lead with 6.5 sacks through five games. But who is that tied for second with Kevin Williams? None other than former first-round draft pick Jimmy Kennedy, who has actually been inactive for two games.

Kennedy might hold the lead for sacks per snap, as the rotational defensive tackle has been making the most of his limited playing time with two sacks, eight tackles (including one for a loss) and another quarterback hurry.

It's starting to lead to more confidence in his play. After being inactive for two of the first three games, despite a sack in the season opener, Kennedy has played in the last two games.

"They see what I can do. It's hard to really just look at me and see (more than just) I'm a big body, but when they watch me run around, when they see me play the double teams, when they see me do pass-rush moves and everything else, it gives them a little bit more confidence to say, ‘Wow, he can do that. Kevin can do that. Pat can do that. He can do that,'" Kennedy said. "It gives them just a little bit more confidence in me, when I go out there, to make certain calls. Once my number is called, I just try to go out there and do what I can."

Kennedy signed with the Vikings late last season when Pat Williams was out for the final two regular-season games and the playoff contest with a shoulder injury. But Kennedy, a first-round pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2003, admits he didn't really know what he was doing in the Vikings defense last year.

"When I was out there last year, Kevin was telling me what to do for the most part. There was maybe five or six defenses that they'd call," he said. "I was playing a new position at the nose guard spot. Now I know both of them – nose guard, (three-technique), and I actually know a little bit of end. I was playing those spots, and if I didn't know a call Kevin would tell me, ‘Hey, do this.'"

Officially, Kennedy is still listed on the depth chart as the fifth defensive tackle, but he has gotten more playing time the last two games while second-year player Letroy Guion has been inactive.

"The coaches are getting a chance to know who I am and how I play and everything else," he said. "I'm earning their trust, and when my number is called I'm taking advantage of my opportunity."

Kennedy said he is playing about equal amounts of nose tackle (Pat Williams' position) and three-technique (Kevin Williams' spot). It just depends on who else is out on the field with him. When he's on the field with Fred Evans, Kennedy is playing the three-technique. If he's out there with Guion or Brian Robison, Kennedy is the nose.

Either way, Kennedy has been effective and his confidence is increasing.

"As I grow in my career, I'm just learning how to transfer it from practice to game day. That's all I'm trying to do," he said. "I'm going out there, studying my opponent, something I always did. I have some great coaches and it was a huge reason why I came back. (Defensive line coach) Karl Dunbar is one of the best in the business. I'm getting a chance to rejuvenate my career and go out there and just play my game."

After being drafted 12th overall by St. Louis in 2003 (when the Vikings selected Kevin Williams ninth overall), Kennedy lasted four years with the Rams but had to experience three different head coaches and coordinators. Then it was on to Chicago for three games in 2007, then Jacksonville for six games in 2008, before joining the Vikings for the final two regular-season games last year.

"It was a mess overall, but my pride and my faith still keep me going," he said. "… I'm taking it, I'm rolling with it now and I'm just glad I get a chance to turn it around before my career is over."

OFFENSIVE LINE CONFIDENTIAL

NFL Network took the Vikings offensive line out to Ruth's Chris steakhouse in Minneapolis earlier this week to produce an entertaining look at the men that are usually the most soft-spoken on the team. The final result was a segment called "O-Line Confidential," in which they waxed about a variety of subjects around the dinner table.

One topic was Brett Favre's butt slap.

"I think he's pretty much got everyone at the table here and it hurts," said guard Steve Hutchinson.

"Normally when we're in the game it's more gentle," center John Sullivan said of having Favre's hand on his butt, creating a round of laughter. "When it's slapping you in the locker room, that thing hurts."

Sullivan was the source of other entertaining quotes, including the subject of blocking for Adrian Peterson.

"I'd say the only bad part about playing with Adrian is when you're blocking somebody and the hole gets squeezed down and he just runs you over. That's when I'm like, ‘That sucks, but I'm glad I don't have to tackle him, that I don't play defense for any other team.'"

Tackle Bryant McKinnie recounted the last time the Vikings played the Ravens and his fellow University of Miami alumnus Ed Reed was giving the oversized lineman a hard time.

"I was jogging on the field and he was like, ‘Man, what do you need a bike to get out here?" McKinnie recalled with a chuckle.

But Sullivan was also the target of some ribbing at the steak house. The subject of his overgrown beard came up and Artis Hicks teased him that the beard is "connected to your chest hair."

Sullivan also was self-deprecating about his body structure. When the subject of shopping for oversized clothes came up (McKinnie was wearing size 15 shoes at age 15), Sullivan said at point in college he was wearing pants that were a 48 waist and 30 inseam. Try finding those in the standard clothing stores.

NOTES

Scout.com's Adam Caplan has the Vikings fourth in his latest power rankings. "While the running game isn't what it has been in previous seasons, the passing game has taken off. The defense clearly isn't dominant this season and is a work in progress," Caplan wrote about Minnesota.

Is it ever too early for a mock draft? Not for Scout.com's Chris Steuber, who takes a look at the top 2010 prospects with his early mock draft.

Steuber also has his updated rookie rankings, with Vikings receiver Percy Harvin at No. 2.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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