Watch out for Eric Kendricks’ return to form

November 14, 2021; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) manages to stop Minnesota Vikings center linebacker Eric Kendricks. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports.

A second-round pick in 2015, Eric Kendricks rose through the ranks to the top of the game.

The pinnacle was reaching first-team All-Pro in 2019 when he had a wonderful season. Unfortunately, the injury issues in 2020 spilled over into the 2021 season, which consequently turned out to be a very disappointing season compared to the high standard Kendricks had set. He hasn’t been helped by injuries throughout the defense and a general drop in the quality of defence. Heading into their first season, the defensive unit was Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell’s main area of ​​interest.

With suitably bolstered ranks and hopefully good health, look for a Kendricks return to form.

The system will be fine-tuned under new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. For the first time, there will be no call plays from Mike Zimmer or Anthony Barr, who Kendricks played alongside returning to college at UCLA. A succession of injuries to Barr often left Kendricks holding the fort with average teammates. Barr is still a free agent and a return to Minnesota seems unlikely. Add to that Danielle Hunter’s injuries and the problems the Vikings had on the edge as a result – plus a struggling secondary – and it’s been a tough few years for the Vikings defense.

The moves the Vikings have made this season are cause for optimism. On paper at least, the defense looks much better. If key players can stay healthy, young players progress and rookies practice, the Vikings could regain a formidable defense. The same sentiment can be echoed for the linebacking unit, where PFF rates the Vikings as one of the top 5 units.

One of the first moves of the new Minnesota regime was to sign Jordan Hicks, a seven-year league veteran. A consistent player at center linebacker who racks up tackles, he’s Kendricks’ ideal partner for patrolling midfield.

June 7, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks (54) and linebacker Troy Dye. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings also have an exciting prospect in third-round rookie Brian Asamoah. His key-to-key speed is already generating excitement and bringing national recognition as a top rookie. With two veterans to learn behind, he’s in a great position. If injuries occur to Kendricks or Hicks, Asamoah should seamlessly step in.

Blake Lynch showed he could do a job when needed last season, so the linebacker unit looks in good shape for this season. Because of that, there should be less pressure on Kendricks to carry the Vikings defense this season, and if he can stay healthy this year, I’ll be watching Kendricks return to form.

At 30, can he return to 2019 All-Pro form when PFF gave him an elite 90.1 rating? Obviously, this would take time and could be slightly optimistic. Going back to being one of the best linebackers in the league is definitely possible and I think something will happen, playing in a much improved Vikings defense.

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