EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- While he might end up at an outside position at some point, second-round pick Eric Kendricks is going to begin his time with the Minnesota Vikings as a middle linebacker. And at just 235 pounds, Kendricks is big enough to survive at that spot in the Vikings' defense, coach Mike Zimmer said.
"I like big guys," Zimmer said. "But the thing about us defensively is, the way we play our defensive line, some of our linebackers can be a little bit smaller. Part of the job of our defensive line is to keep our linebackers so they can run and hunt. So I'm not concerned about his size."
Zimmer said the Vikings believe Kendricks could eventually settle at weak-side linebacker, which communicates a couple things about the current state of the linebacking group. First, it's no secret that the Vikings don't have an established middle linebacker, and it appears they could turn to Kendricks to fill that role as a rookie. But if the Vikings think Kendricks will eventually land on the weak side -- possibly once Chad Greenway is gone -- it could mean Gerald Hodges isn't settled yet in their plans at the spot, even after he played well in spurts last year.
The Vikings kept Jasper Brinkley -- their weakest linebacker in coverage -- on the field just 42.5 percent of the time last year, so Kendricks' playing time will probably be determined in the long run by how effective he can be in coverage. He was thought to be the best coverage linebacker in his draft class coming out of UCLA, and if he's on the field with former roommate Anthony Barr in a nickel package, his spot in the Vikings' base defense could be something of a moot point.
In the short term, though, Kendricks seems comfortable with the idea of playing in the middle. Zimmer said the rookie's intelligence stood out early on Friday morning, when Kendricks was asked to call the defense in the huddle and get players aligned. Kendricks said his shift to an inside linebacker spot at UCLA was the "best thing that ever happened to (him).
"I like knowing what everyone has to do, commanding the front and everything like that," Kendricks said. "I was kind of in my own world playing weak-side backer, just focusing on what I had to do. When I was moved to the middle, I had to focus on the whole defense, and it just allowed me to understand [the scheme] as a whole."