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What the Eric Kendricks-Jordan Hicks connection could mean for Vikings

The linebackers already have developed a close-knit relationship on and off the field

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Minnesota Vikings linebackers Eric Kendricks, left, and Jordan Hicks.
John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press
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When he ponders the potential of his defense, there are a couple of moments from this spring that stand out to Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Ed Donatell.

While trying to teach parts of his 3-4 scheme a few months ago, inundating his players with new information in the process, Donatell remembers inside linebackers Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks approaching him on separate occasions.

The message from Kendricks? He loved playing with Hicks.

The message from Hicks? He loved playing with Kendricks.

Both players went out of their way to praise one another and spoke to the natural chemistry on and off the field. That has blossomed into a friendship this summer, with Kendricks and Hicks consistently seen together at TCO Performance Center in Eagan, Minnesota.

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“They are inseparable and they didn’t know each other five months ago,” Donatell said with a smile. “What a special plus for us.”

Indeed. As the Vikings shift to a 3-4 scheme this season — which puts a ton of stress on the inside linebackers to make quick decisions — they are going to need Kendricks and Hicks to be on the same page as much as possible.

The fact that they have become fast friends — similar to the dynamic duo of Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith off the edge — could prove to be useful on that front.

“We definitely see things the same way,” said Kendricks, who has played in a 4-3 scheme for his whole career to this point. “We are very like-minded, so the things that make sense make sense to both of us, and the things that don’t make sense, we usually agree on that, as well.”

NFL: Minnesota Vikings Training Camp Kendricks
Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks (54) warms up at TCO Performance Center on July 27, 2022, in Eagan, Minnesota.
Matt Krohn / USA Today Sports

Though it hasn’t gotten to the point where they are finishing each other’s sentences, Kendricks and Hicks have started to find ways to communicate without actually speaking.

Maybe it’s a glance before the snap. Maybe it’s a hand gesture while the play is underway. Maybe it’s a combination of a few things.

Hicks called it “that nonverbal communication, where we know what each other is thinking and reacting off of it.”

“That’s what we’re practicing,” said Hicks, who has experience in a 3-4 scheme. “That’s the beauty of training camp and going against (an) offense that has so many different wrinkles to it. We’ve had a lot of things that we’ve had to talk through and work through, and it’s making us better.”

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Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers (23) rushes past Arizona Cardinals inside linebacker Tanner Vallejo (51) and Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Jordan Hicks (58) during a third quarter drive in the divisional playoff game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022.
Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times / TNS

Sometimes that means Kendricks and Hicks have been caught out of position. That’s fine with them as long as they are learning from their mistakes.

“If we get beat on something, we both know it at the same time,” Kendricks said. “Then we get another chance and get a different look at it and we’re like, ‘OK. Let’s talk about that now.’ We both kind of have the same lingo.”

That’s made for a smooth transition so far. While both players still have a lot to learn before the Sept. 11 season opener against the Green Bay Packers, they are happy to be doing it together.

“It’s special because you don’t always get that opportunity to play next to somebody who sees things that way you do,” Hicks said.

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Playing alongside Kendricks, Hicks added, is a big reason he signed with Minnesota after four seasons in Philadelphia and three in Arizona. “It’s been great so far,” he said.

As for Donatell, he’s thrilled with how Kendricks and Hicks have looked in training camp.

“The way they play off each other,” Donatell said, “I haven’t been around much better.”

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