Vikings’ Eric Kendricks ‘excited’ about new coach Kevin O’Connell, direction of team
The head coach is counting on Kendricks, who joins safety Harrison Smith, 33, and cornerback Patrick Peterson, 31, as one of three players on the defensive who is 30 and older
On Jan. 10, hours after the Vikings fired Mike Zimmer, linebacker Eric Kendricks didn’t mince words when he spoke about what type of culture was needed with a new head coach. He said, “I don’t think a fear-based organization is the way to go.”
In February, the Vikings hired Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell as Zimmer’s replacement, and the team began offseason drills last month. On Wednesday, Kendricks spoke to the media for the first time since his strong comments in January.
Kendricks, who joined the Vikings in 2015, said he didn’t want to look back on the seven years he spent playing for Zimmer, who was known for his abrasive nature. But all indications are he is pleased with what has transpired so far under O’Connell, known for being much more easy going.
“I’m real excited about the staff,” Kendricks said. “Everybody’s been on board, everybody’s been communicating very well. … We have this amazing opportunity ahead of us again. … Whatever happened last year is in the past and we have to move forward. We can learn from a lot of things, but we also have to adapt and change with the new year.”
On the same day Zimmer was fired, the Vikings also dismissed general manager Rick Spielman, who was replaced later in January by Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. During the process of looking for a coach, Kendricks said Wednesday he had conversations with management and the Wilf ownership group about what the team might be seeking.
“We had a great conversation at the end of the season and throughout the offseason a little bit,” Kendricks said “I’ve talked with the Wilfs as well. … Just having that bridge of communication with them and the management as well, I feel like it’s not really common. I’ve talked to players around the league and they don’t really have that communication with their ownership.”
Kendricks didn’t give specifics but said his conversations with Zygi and Mark Wilf were more detailed than anything he had before. He said previous dealings with ownership usually came when he went to community events and the Wilfs “happened to be there.”
All indications so far have been that Kendricks, 30, is building a strong relationship with O’Connell. The head coach is counting on Kendricks, who joins safety Harrison Smith, 33, and cornerback Patrick Peterson, 31, as one of three players on the defensive who is 30 and older.
“From day one, I’ve been so impressed by Eric and just his impact on our team, his impact as a leader, part of our leadership group that we have here, which I’m very, very fortunate in my first job as a head coach to have such a good group,” O’Connell said.
Kendricks has led the Vikings in tackles in six of his seven seasons and was named first-team All-Pro in 2019, and O’Connell calls him a “core player” and a key communicator on defense. But Kendricks will have a bit of a different role in 2022.
The Vikings have shifted from a 4-3 scheme, which featured Kendricks as the middle linebacker, to a 3-4, in which he will be one of two inside linebackers. So far, Kendricks likes how the adjustment has gone.
“Obviously, with the 4-3, you’re gapped out most of the time and this and that,” Kendricks said. “With the (3-4), it’s a little more ambiguous at times. It allows you to make decisions on the run, make plays, run around really. I like it.”
Another difference for the 2022 season is Kendricks no longer will play alongside outside linebacker Anthony Barr, his former UCLA roommate and teammate who joined the Vikings in 2014 but was not re-signed as a free agent. Kendricks called that “definitely weird” but that it’s “the nature of the business.”
Kendricks is building a good rapport with fellow inside linebacker Jordan Hicks, who signed as a free agent in March. Kendricks had gotten to know Hicks a bit previously at the 2015 combine and when he was teammates with his brother Mychal Kendricks in Philadelphia from 2015-17.
Kendricks called it “pretty wild” that he is entering his eighth NFL season. And he is challenging himself to be even more of a leader under the new coaching staff.
“I got to step up in ways that I can,” he said. “I got to be a leader when they least expect. Whether that’s how I work, maybe me being more verbal, maybe taking somebody to the side. I got to step up my game as a leader, for sure.”
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