Linebacker Eric Kendricks sat out some reps Thursday in his return to practice, his first on-field session with the Vikings since injuring his right quad Dec. 23 against the Packers. He was officially listed as limited.
Kendricks’ return is a good sign for his chances of playing in Sunday’s NFC wild-card game against the Saints; he missed last week’s practices and the loss to the Bears. Against the versatile backfield of Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray, Kendricks could be an equalizer for the Vikings. The five-year veteran doesn’t need many practice reps to be ready.
“We’re working him in, so hopefully we’ll continue to work him throughout the course of the week,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “We’ll see where he’s at when we get to Sunday.”
Kendricks had his best season with a career-high 12 pass deflections and a team-leading 30 run stops, according to Pro Football Focus. He has particularly stood out in coverage, allowing an 83.0 passer rating, third best among NFL linebackers behind the Colts’ Darius Leonard (79.0) and the Titans’ Jayon Brown (81.4).
“Had a heck of a year for us,” Edwards said. “Any time you can get a player like that back, it’ll be a benefit.”
Vikings owner Zygi Wilf was among the onlookers at Thursday’s practice.
Three Vikings were sidelined Thursday, including slot cornerback Mackensie Alexander, who played 50 snaps against the Bears despite being listed questionable because of a knee injury.
Alexander watched practice from the sideline, while two sick players — defensive end Stephen Weatherly and safety Andrew Sendejo — were nowhere in sight during the portion open to reporters. Mike Hughes, who has rotated at outside cornerback, has taken some first-team slot reps and is preparing to defend everybody from receiver Michael Thomas to quarterback/receiver Taysom Hill.
“Their versatility is really big,” said Hughes, limited Thursday because of a neck injury. “Guys play a lot of roles.”
‘Squarely on Saints’
Offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski said his mind is on New Orleans despite already being mentioned in the Browns’ head coaching search. Other teams — such as the Panthers — also are reportedly seeking an offensive-minded coach like Stefanski, who has openly embraced analytics.
“My focus is squarely on the Saints, just like we ask of our players,” Stefanski said. “Regardless what’s going on in your life or the outside world, when you walk into this building you’re focused intensely.”
Stefanski can’t interview for head coaching jobs until Monday at the earliest.
Preparing for the noise
Saints coach Sean Payton said his defense needs to take advantage of the crowd noise in the Superdome with pre-snap disguises that may stress the Vikings’ communication.
The Vikings pumped artificial crowd noise — “very loud,” according to Stefanski — in practices this week while quarterback Kirk Cousins and center Garrett Bradbury work on silent counts, taps and hand signals at the line of scrimmage.
“Obviously, the playoffs might be turned up a notch,” Bradbury said. “We know going in it’s going to be a loud game, and we just have to handle our business.”
Big Tuna’s fingerprints
Payton and Vikings coach Mike Zimmer are branches of the Bill Parcells coaching tree, and the Big Tuna’s fingerprints could be on Sunday’s game if you know where to look.
“I definitely know the Parcells-isms on both teams, and I’m sure [Payton] does, too,” Zimmer said. “We’ve both had the opportunity to work with a Hall of Fame coach, so we both learned things from him — the way he manages games, the way he tries to manipulate different things.”