Decision that changed the game
The decision that changed the Vikings opener didn’t come Sunday but last spring when the organization drafted Eric Kendricks and Danielle Hunter in back-to-back rounds, the second and third.
Those personnel decisions already looked smart before Sunday, of course, but those two second-year defenders saved the Vikings with defensive touchdowns in the second half of a 25-16 victory at Tennessee in the opener.
With the offense unable to score touchdowns and Blair Walsh hooking field goals like a bad golfer, Kendricks and Hunter showed why the Vikings have such high hopes in their ability to be difference-makers.
In the third quarter, Kendricks sniffed out a screen pass, picked off Marcus Mariota and returned it 77 yards for a touchdown. Everson Griffen’s pressure forced a rushed throw by Mariota, and Kendricks showed great instincts to intercept the pass.
In the fourth quarter, Hunter scooped up a botched handoff and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown, giving the Vikings breathing room.
Mike Zimmer has constructed a Top-5 defense with a nucleus of young talent. Kendricks and Hunter are part of that foundation, along with Harrison Smith, Griffen, Anthony Barr and Xavier Rhodes.
Zimmer raved about Kendrick’s development during training camp, saying his middle linebacker looks more comfortable in his second season in the system.
Hunter was billed as a raw project at defensive end, but his six sacks last season proved he could provide an immediate impact.
Both players are fast and instinctive and seem to fit Zimmer’s scheme perfectly.