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Notebook: Young Vikings Linebackers Active in 1st Action

Posted Aug 10, 2017

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Vikings signings during free agency and rookies weren’t the only ones in unfamiliar territory on Thursday night.

Minnesota’s starters quickly headed to the sidelines after taking their first bite of the apples.

The first-team defense only played two series, totaling 10 plays on drives that spanned a combined 5:05 in Minnesota’s 17-10 victory.

“It was good, we got a little taste,” said linebacker Eric Kendricks, a three-down player accustomed to only leaving the field when the punt teams run on it. “When you get pulled out of the game, you kind of want a little more. It’s the preseason, so I’ve got some stuff to correct, but it’s exciting to get back out there.”

Kendricks was involved on a tackle on the second play of the game, and linebacker Anthony Barr recorded two of his three solo tackles on the Bills second series. The former UCLA teammates were joined by third-year pro Edmond Robinson to open the game as the Vikings look to fill Chad Greenway’s former spot.

Robinson was credited with three tackles and a pass breakup on defense, as well as a stop on special teams by press box statisticians.

A pair of rookie linebackers were credited with the most tackles on the night. Undrafted free agent Eric Wilson was credited with six stops on defense (four solo), a pair of pass breakups and a tackle on special teams, and fourth-round pick Ben Gedeon had five stops on defense (four solo) and one on special teams.

Seventh-round pick Elijah Lee also recorded three stops and hustled to recover a bad snap by the Bills that allowed Minnesota’s offense to line up in the victory formation.

“It was the first chance to get to see them out there playing around,” Kendricks said. “I thought their effort was good. We’ve got to go back and clean up some stuff for sure, but for the most part, I felt like their effort and energy was good.”

Asked specifically about what he saw from Wilson, Zimmer said “It’s really hard for me to say. I was trying to look at the defensive line and the secondary more so, so I can’t give you an honest opinion.”

With so many players to evaluate, coaches will rely on film review and let players know their observations on Saturday, when the team is scheduled to have its next practice.

Zim’s assessments: Zimmer improved to 13-1 in the preseason since his hire in 2014, but there were multiple things he didn’t like in the exhibition game.

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Zimmer said in his opening comments. “My expectations for this team is a lot higher than that. We’ve got to get back to work. I thought the special teams played well tonight. We flipped the field position, did a good job with the kicks.

“I didn’t feel like we covered well enough defensively, especially early in the ball game,” Zimmer added. “We gave up too many catches. Offensively, the two sacks were disappointing, but we only had three penalties tonight, and they had 10.”

The Bills won the coin toss and deferred, and Zimmer wanted to see his offense get points on its first possession. A sack of Sam Bradford on a third-and-7, however, ended the initial quest for points.

“I expect us to go out, take the ball down and score, and we didn’t do that,” Zimmer said. “We had about a six-play drive or something and the sack stopped the first one.

He also saw room for improvement on run defense.

“We had a couple of pressures tonight where we ran up the field and it was a run and we allowed runs to occur, so that’s an easily correctable thing that we’ll get corrected,” Zimmer added.

Stacking sacks: The Vikings allowed three sacks and recorded three sacks.

Everson Griffen notched the first one for Minnesota, tackling Tyrod Taylor for a loss of 11 to create a third-and-31.

Undrafted rookie Tashawn Bower sacked T.J. Yates for a loss of 6 in the second quarter, and fourth-round pick Jaleel Johnson dropped Yates for a loss of 7 to force a punt in the third quarter.

“We had good coverage from the back end of the defense, the secondary, and linebackers playing their parts,” Bower said. “The other three guys rushing kept their gap and when it’s time to make your play, the quarterback gets flushed to you, or you beat your guy 1-on-1.”

Bower, a former teammate and roommate of Danielle Hunter’s at LSU, said he enjoyed the opportunity to make his NFL debut.

“It was definitely something I was looking forward my whole life,” Bower said. “You get the jitters out right away, and once you step on the field, it’s nothing you haven’t done your whole life. You just go out and play your technique and assignment, what the coach teaches, and if you do that, you’ll have success.”

Waynes, Sankey updates: Trae Waynes left the game early after hurting his shoulder before the third snap by the Bills. Waynes was involved with the first two tackles by the Vikings after Taylor connected with Sammy Watkins on completions of 5 and 11 yards.

Terence Newman replaced Waynes, and the Bills went back to Watkins on their third play for a gain of 14.

“Just a sore shoulder, I guess, I don’t know,” Zimmer said of Waynes.

Running back Bishop Sankey injured his knee at the end of a 14-yard run early in the third quarter. Sankey was replaced during the drive by C.J. Ham, who put the Vikings ahead 10-3 on a 2-yard touchdown with 10:34 left in the third quarter.

“[Sankey] hurt his knee, so we’ll see what happens when he gets an MRI,” Zimmer said.