Can Kendricks return to his professional form?

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We take a look at each Vikings position group as training camp begins. Today: Linebackers.

Offensive lineQuarterbacksRunning backsDefensive lineDefensive backsSpecial teamsWide receiversTight endsRegister

Eric KendricksJordan Hicks, Troy DyeBrian Asamoah II, William Quenkeu, Blake Lynch, Chaz Surratt, Ryan Connelly (PUP)

Moving in the off-season

Lineup: Hicks (free agent signing), Asamoah (third round pick), Quenkeu (undrafted free agent)

Out: Anthony Barr

Prospects

The starters look more than solid, and the depth may be less than ideal. Kendricks, the leader in the middle of Mike Zimmer’s 4-3 defense the past seven seasons, is transitioning to Ed Donatello’s 3-4 scheme but trusts his “innate ability to adjust and find the rock,” as he puts it. The 30-year-old is too good and still agile enough not to realize that and be fine. Hicks, another experienced 30-year-old, was an underappreciated acquisition that was overshadowed by the signing of right tackle Za’Darius Smith. While Smith offers a ferocious, headline-grabbing passing game, Hicks’ heads-up game in the middle of the 3-4 scheme is also very important, only more quietly. The six players behind Kendricks and Hicks have combined for just 16 NFL starts. Dye, a fourth-round pick in the 2020 draft, has early upside as the No. 3 inside linebacker. He has six starts in two seasons, including five when the team’s linebacker corps was decimated by injuries in 2020.

Top competition

Asamoah vs. Dai. Dye lined up next to Kendricks when Hicks missed the start of training camp due to an illness unrelated to COVID. Asamoah was the next midfielder off the bench. He also had some reps as the only backer in the sub-package and was involved in the second unit with Lynch. Dye has the experience advantage, but was drafted in the 4-3 scheme that the previous regime ran. Asamoah is raw, but he’s caught a round above – 66th overall — to correspond to the transition of the current regime to 3-4.

Player for viewing

Hicks. While playing for the Cardinals, Hicks was one of two players last season to record at least 100 tackles and four sacks. The other guy? Kendricks, who was a second-round pick in 2015. Hicks was taken one round later by Philadelphia. He started all 16 games his sophomore season, leading all NFL linebackers with five interceptions. Injuries cost him 13 of 32 games over the next two seasons, landing him in Arizona in 2019. He hasn’t missed a game since. He finished third in the league with a career-high 150 tackles in 2019. Known for his intelligence and calm demeanor, Hicks was named a team captain his final two years at Arizona.

One big question

Can Kendricks return to All-Pro form under the new scheme? Kendricks knew Zimmer’s defense as well as Zim did. This allowed him to play extremely fast and with such accurate anticipation that it sometimes made him impossible to block. Kendricks was an easy first-team All-Pro in 2019 and was seeking a second straight first-team honor when a calf injury ended his season after 11 games in 2020. Up until this point, Zimmer’s injury-plagued team was still in the playoff hunt thanks in large part to Kendricks. After he also went down, Zimmer’s defense was baffled. Kendricks led the team in tackles his first five seasons before finishing second in 2020. He returned to the top last season with a career-high 143 stops. He also set the franchise career record for most games played as the team’s leading rusher (59). If he stays healthy and the Vikings return to the playoffs, Kendricks will be an all-pro contender in whatever scheme Donatell throws at him.

Can Kendricks return to his professional form?

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