Former UCLA standout Eric Kendricks will look to build off an already impressive start with the Minnesota Vikings going into the 2017 campaign.
The 6’, 232-pound linebacker lead the team in tackles in both 2015 with 105 and 2016 with 126 to start his professional career, being only the second rookie in franchise history to do so. He also had a career-high nine passes deflected and improved his career sacks to 6.5. Kendricks is also the Bruins all-time leading tackler with 481 and led the nation in 2014 with 101 solo tackles.
“Communication. It always starts with communication. Now that we are more familiar with the defense, we can play with it. If everyone is on the same page, we are communicating well, we’re flying to the ball, good things happen,” Kendricks said about how to improve the defense.
Alongside fellow UCLA alum and former college roommate, Anthony Barr, the duo is regarded as one of the best sets of linebackers in the league. The pair totaled 141 solo tackles and 4.5 sacks.
“Eric has probably had one of the best years as a mike linebacker, he should have gone to the Pro Bowl last year. So, I am really hopeful for those guys [Kendricks and Barr] that they keep getting better and the sky is the limit,” Linebacker coach Adam Zimmer said before Training Camp.
Kendricks was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for the September 11 game against Tennessee, as well as the NFC Defensive Rookie of the Month in October 2015.
“He makes plays all over the field, he is so instinctive, sometimes we have to reign that instinctiveness in so he does it in the scheme of the defense, but he is a really an instinctive football player that makes plays that you just ‘wow’ at sometimes,” Zimmer said.
The 25-year-old became the second player in franchise history and first linebacker to record at least 10 tackles for loss and 10 pass deflections in the same season. He is also tied for the second most sacks against the Packers for a linebacker with 2.5 in his career.
While at college, he became the first Bruin to win the Butkus Award in 2014, which is awarded to the top collegiate, high school or professional linebacker.
“We have to step up and we have to be leaders. Obviously we cannot replace someone like Chad Greenway but we can try and be the best version of ourselves,” Kendricks said.
He took over the starting role at middle linebacker in 2015 and wasted no time getting to work. In is first season with Minnesota, he contributed 72 solo tackles and four sacks in the 14 games he played in.
“These are guys [Kendricks and Barr] that have been doing this for two, three years now. They are really comfortable in the defense. They come out here strong and perform everyday and perform in big games. So just to be next to those guys, gain some knowledge from them and continue to go everyday is a great thing for me,” fellow linebacker Edmond Robinson said of Kendricks’ leadership.