When the Vikings rookie minicamp began Friday at Winter Park, Eric Kendricks, the team’s second-round draft pick, manned the middle of their defense. While that might not be their ideal position for Kendricks, they are hopeful that he can fill that void once the veterans show up.
Coach Mike Zimmer said Kendricks ultimately might project as a weak-side outside linebacker in the NFL. But with Chad Greenway back in 2015 to reclaim that spot and a void at middle linebacker after Jasper Brinkley was allowed to leave in free agency, Kendricks is starting out in the middle.
“Kendricks is a very instinctive playmaker,” Zimmer said. “He’s very, very intelligent; you could tell that today in the meetings and when he was out here making the calls and getting things set up. We’re going to start him at ‘Mike’ linebacker and see where that goes.”
Kendrick began his career at UCLA as a weak-side linebacker. But when the Bruins’ starting middle linebacker, Patrick Larimore, retired after a series of concussions, Kendricks was moved to his spot.
Kendricks credits that for helping him evolve mentally because playing middle linebacker required him to learn the entire defense, not just his assignment.
“I was forced into the middle and I had to make calls within two weeks of a game,” he said. “I was kind of forced into it, but it was the best thing that could have happened to me.”
Kalil ‘feels great’
Zimmer downplayed any concern about left tackle Matt Kalil, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on both knees in January and reportedly had other procedures performed on them this offseason.
Zimmer acknowledged that the 25-year-old had knee surgery for a second consecutive offseason, but he said it was “more of a cleanup kind of thing.”
“Matt’s told me that this is the best he’s felt since his rookie year, I think,” Zimmer said. “So we’re just going with that. He said he feels great. And, you know, we’re glad that we got the issues taken care of.”
Kalil has said his knee troubles that resulted in missed practice time last spring affected his confidence and subsequently his performance in 2014.
Waynes learns fast
Zimmer, who is usually not a patient instructor, was impressed how quickly rookie cornerback Trae Waynes, the team’s first-rounder, picked up things during his first practices with the Vikings.
“We just worked together for a little bit today and this is way, way, way early,” Zimmer said. “But actually, I told one of the coaches, for a young guy and [us] trying to teach the technique that we’re doing, he caught on probably faster than I’ve ever had a guy on the first day.”
Doing double duty
Fourth-round pick T.J. Clemmings played right tackle at Pittsburgh, and General Manager Rick Spielman said last week that Clemmings likely would remain at tackle. But Friday, Clemmings received snaps at guard, too, which is noteworthy given that the starting left guard spot is up for grabs.
“I’m pretty sure I’ll be moved around,” Clemmings said. “Just getting reps and getting a feel at both positions is my plan, just to be ready to be able to play at guard or tackle, wherever they want me to play or need me to play.”
To Poland they’ll go
Among the rookies competing at the minicamp was tackle Babatunde Aiyegbusi. The 27-year-old Poland native towered above all the other players at 6-9. Aiyegbusi often lined up at left tackle, and while he is a long shot to make the 53-man roster, Zimmer said he is worth the look.
“It’s really a no-brainer at the end of the day,” Zimmer said. “You get a guy on the cheap that has a ton of athletic ability, big size. We’re looking for them in Canada or the arena league. Or Poland.”