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Breaking news and year-round coverage of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings. Access Vikings is the Star Tribune's blog covering team news, rumors, games and all things purple.

Vikings OC John DeFilippo can lean on history with Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford

With John DeFilippo nearing the end of his second full week as the Vikings’ offensive coordinator, and the start of free agency now less than three weeks away, the team is in the throes of its decision-making process as it tries to determine whether one of three established QBs on its roster (Case Keenum, Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater) — or possibly a free agent from another team, like Kirk Cousins — should be its starter in 2018.

“It’s just a matter of choosing the right person to fit our culture and what we’re trying to do offensively,” DeFilippo told Sid Hartman this week. There’s no doubt that Rick Spielman, coach [Mike] Zimmer and myself will put our heads together and make the best decision that we think is the best for the Minnesota Vikings. That is the approach we’re going to take, and we’re in the middle of that process right now.”

The Vikings have plenty of variables to sort out — the contract demands of free agents like Keenum and Bradford, the health of Bradford and Bridgewater and whether Bridgewater’s 2017 contract will toll into 2018 among them — but one thing that might speed up the process is the time DeFilippo has already spent studying two of the team’s three in-house options.

(Mark Craig, Andrew Krammer and I talked about the Vikings’ QB situation, and plenty more, on the latest Access Vikings podcast. You can check it out, or find information about subscribing to Access Vikings on iTunes or Google Play, here.)

DeFilippo became the quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia in January 2016, joining Doug Pederson’s staff when Bradford was the Eagles’ incumbent. DeFilippo was part of the offensive staff that drove the team’s decision to trade up for Carson Wentz in the 2016 draft — a decision that ultimately made Bradford expendable when Bridgewater hurt his knee later that year — and DeFilippo spent the 2016 offseason and training camp working with Bradford before the Eagles traded him to Minnesota.

Two years earlier, DeFilippo was the Oakland Raiders’ quarterbacks coach when the team held the No. 5 pick in the 2014 draft. The Raiders took linebacker Khalil Mack fifth overall, but came back to select Derek Carr with the fourth pick of the second round, a day after the Vikings traded back into the first round to take Bridgewater.

Former Raiders coach Dennis Allen and offensive coordinator Greg Olson attended Bridgewater’s pro day at Louisville, holding a private meeting with him later that day, so it stands to reason the team (DeFilippo included) spent a fair amount of time evaluating Bridgewater before that draft. That DeFilippo’s teams ultimately decided they could do without Bridgewater and Bradford shouldn’t necessarily be taken as a sign the Vikings will reach the same conclusion now, but it’s worth noting that the new coordinator certainly isn’t starting from scratch in his experience with two of the Vikings’ three veterans.

It’s at this point we should point out the Vikings might not have a decision to make on Bridgewater at all.  Spielman said earlier this month the NFL will make the decision on whether the quarterback’s contract will toll, based on the time Bridgewater spent on the physically-unable-to-perform list, though NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith indicated the union might be able to argue Bridgewater should be a free agent if medical records show was healthy enough to be cleared before the end of Week 6. NFLPA communications director Carl Francis said this week the union is watching Bridgewater’s situation “very closely,” and the quarterback’s status could trigger a dispute between the league and the players’ association this spring. If the NFL Management Council finds that Bridgewater’s contract should toll, though, the Vikings would have him back at a base salary of just $1.354 million for 2018.

The Vikings’ QB decision will come after Spielman, Zimmer, DeFilippo and other sort through a handful of different scenarios, and it’s entirely possible the process will lead the Vikings to the same outcome they reached last year, with Keenum as their starter going forward. As they make decisions on whether they can tether their future to the health of either Bradford or Bridgewater, though, it’s worth remembering DeFilippo has done enough work on both players to possibly have some conclusions in mind already.

Eric Kendricks, a tackling machine who could get more for Vikings

Note: This is the third of four offseason snapshots looking at the peaks and valleys of key 2017 Vikings contributors. Part II: Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray. Part I: Harrison Smith.

A basketball starting five used to require an array of talents from each position. Today’s courts populated with seven footers who shoot threes changes it a bit.

Football’s starting 11 inherently remains as such through defined positions requiring vastly different skills that, when paired together properly, form a good team. So that’s why the Vikings were able to take a decorated and undersized linebacker from UCLA and make him the center of the defense.

Eric Kendricks (6-0, 232 pounds) arrived in Minnesota a fast talker with fleet feet. He wasn’t the combine warrior like a Danielle Hunter in his same class. Kendricks’ best drill finish was fifth in the vertical, and his worst (21st in bench) didn’t shed concerns about his size. But he was a long-term fit when paired behind the 329-pound Linval Joseph and next to the 6-foot-5 Anthony Barr, even if it’s not how Mike Zimmer originally intended.

Kendricks was first brought into Winter Park to eventually take the spot of one of the franchise’s all-time best, Chad Greenway. Instead, he performed well enough in 13 games as a three-down middle linebacker to change that course. The Vikings signed outside linebacker Emmanuel Lamur, then drafted outside linebacker Ben Gedeon. And 314 combined tackles later, Kendricks led the defense during each of his three NFL seasons from the middle.

A linebacker for today’s game

Until late-season games from Alvin Kamara and Jonathan Stewart, the Vikings had forced opposing quarterbacks to beat them. Running backs also had a hard time serving as their QB’s outlet. With Kendricks often in coverage, the Vikings allowed just 490 receiving yards and a touchdown on 100 targets to running backs during the regular season.

Descriptors such as instinctual and intelligent were passed around by evaluators when Kendricks entered the 2015 NFL Draft. More tangibly, his fast feet were evident in a 4.14-second 20-yard shuttle at UCLA’s pro day that would’ve ranked fourth among all linebackers at the combine. Those traits combined make Kendricks a strong volume tackler and good matchup for the army of dual-threat RBs in the league.

Leader among them is Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell, whose 61 broken tackles last season were third most among backs, according to Pro Football Focus. He had one of his quietest days of the season against the Vikings with 91 yards (four receiving) on 31 touches. Kendricks helped limit that damage through the air.

Below you’ll see two clips of Kendricks’ coverage on Bell. His speed allows the Vikings to be comfortable with him in a range of situations. Third clip: Kendricks lines up outside on Lions tight end Eric Ebron. Fourth clip: A shallow angle behind his defensive tackles allows Kendricks to beat Washington’s center to the edge.

At the door

Unlike a handful of his teammates, Kendricks has not yet been voted onto a Pro Bowl or All-Pro roster. It could be a matter of time. There’s also room for improvement.

While he’s hoarded tackles in Minnesota, Kendricks has been just outside of the league’s most efficient linebackers. He’s missed at least 10 tackles, according to PFF, in each of his three seasons, peaking last year with 17. Kendricks plays low. It’s one of his strengths in maintaining balance while leaping at jolting torsos. Sometimes he misses, evident in the video below.

The Vikings were about 75 percent a nickel defense, meaning Kendricks and Barr were mostly the only two linebackers on the field. Safeties, particularly Harrison Smith, are used often as a fill-in defender. But the defense can crack when Kendricks gets overpowered in a gap.

First clip: Kendricks is carried out by Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff. Second clip: The defensive tackle gets blocked out, putting Kendricks in a bad spot to recover on Isaiah Crowell’s 26-yard touchdown run. Third clip: Man coverage on Lions TE Eric Ebron, Kendricks gets cast aside on the miss. Fourth clip: He squares up on Lions RB Ameer Abdullah, but the ankle tackle misses.

Found a fit

Kendricks’ strengths as a quick-twitch linebacker fast to the ball has made for a strong three-year run behind Joseph. A defense with a lesser nose tackle might not have made it work as well. The Vikings also orchestrate run fits that move Kendricks around the perimeter of the defense, maximizing his speed unlike a traditional middle linebacker.

Coach after coach on conference calls throughout the season praise the gap discipline of the Vikings defense. Below you’ll see a 3-yard run by Le’Veon Bell, stalled as the D-line crashes down, Kendricks contains the edge and safety Andrew Sendejo fills in.

Second clip: On 1st-and-goal from the 6-yard line, Kendricks shifts to align outside of defensive end Everson Griffen. Smith and Barr fill in the middle for the successful run stop. Third clip: Defensive tackle Shamar Stephen gives Kendricks a little help with a hold to keep the Lions double team and open the hole. Fourth clip: And when opposing offenses decide to block DTs and LBs one-on-one, the Vikings typically win that fight up front.

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