EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings linebackers were the least-changed position group on Minnesota’s roster in 2018, returning all but one player from the 2017 season and retaining all three of its starters.
The Vikings parted ways with Emmanuel Lamur in free agency and selected Devante Downs in the seventh round of the NFL Draft to round out the room.
Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Ben Gedeon combined for 42 games and racked up 244 total tackles (team stats).
Eric Wilson and Kentrell Brothers made significant contributions on special teams in their second and third seasons, respectively, and Wilson started a career-high three games when stepping in for Barr and Kendricks, who each missed games due to injuries.
Barr was inactive Weeks 8-10 with a hamstring injury.
Upon coming back healthy after the bye, the 26-year-old was utilized a little more in the Vikings pass rush, and he thrived in the role. Barr notched 3.0 total sacks in consecutive games, taking down Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill twice in Week 15 after a sack of Russell Wilson at Seattle in Week 14. In the final five games of the 2018 campaign, he totaled 32 tackles (team stats), five tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks and five quarterback hurries.
“He’s played outstanding, really the last month or so, maybe a little longer,” Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said in mid-December. “Playing with great physicality, effort to the ball.”
Barr was voted to his fourth career Pro Bowl following the season.
Kendricks recorded three takeaways in 2018, a fumble recovery against the Eagles in Week 5 and a pair of interceptions. He picked off Tom Brady and Wilson in consecutive contests, becoming the first Vikings linebacker with multiple interceptions in a single season since Chad Greenway (3) and Erin Henderson (2) in 2013.
Kendricks also set a new career high with 18 total tackles (team stats) at New England.
In his second pro season, Gedeon started eight games when the Vikings opened games in their base defense. He played 309 (30 percent) of Minnesota’s defensive snaps and 334 (75 percent) of its special teams snaps. Gedeon set a new career high in tackles at Seattle with eight stops. After recording one pass defended in 2017, he totaled three in 2018.
Wilson, who signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2017, continued to make strides and proved largely reliable on when called upon. The Michigan native made his first career start in place of Barr against Detroit on Nov. 4; he also started at Chicago (Nov. 18) and at Detroit (Dec. 23), where he had a career outing.
Brothers played just five snaps on defense. He and Downs were in on 202 (45 percent) and 125 (28 percent) of Minnesota’s special teams plays, respectively.
4 — Kendricks’ 120 total tackles (team stats) led the Vikings for the fourth consecutive season, bringing his career total to 367.
Only three other linebackers in franchise history have led the team for at least four consecutive seasons: Rip Hawkins (1961-64), Scott Studwell (1980-85) and Chad Greenway (2008-13). Hawkins and Kendricks are the only two linebackers since the team’s founding in 1961 to top the team in tackles as a rookie.
The Vikings visited Philadelphia in Week 5 and looked to notch a win, which they did … thanks, in part, to turnovers created by Minnesota’s defense, including a fumble recovery by Kendricks inside the red zone.
Early in the third quarter, the Vikings held a semi-comfortable, 17-3 lead, but the Eagles had a first-and-goal from the Minnesota 6 and looked to shrink the deficit. Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz handed off to running back Jay Ajayi, who pushed forward for one yard but the fumbled the football. Kendricks was quick to react and recovered the ball, halting the Eagles drive and returning possession to the Vikings, who capped the following drive with a 22-yard field goal to stay well-ahead of their opponents.
Minnesota went on to squeak by with a 23-21 defeat of Philadelphia.
120 total tackles (team stats) with five tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, two interceptions and a pass defended
71 total tackles (team stats) with eight tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, one forced fumble and two passes defended
53 total tackles (team stats) with three passes defended
38 total tackles (team stats) with five tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks
Two total tackles with one tackle for loss and one sack
*Did not play any defensive snaps; contributed on special teams
View the top 30 tackles caught on camera from the 2018 Vikings season.
2 Highest highs
1. Clinging to a four-point lead early in the second half, Minnesota needed a big defensive play against Miami, and Barr delivered.
On first-and-10, Tannehill dropped back and was sacked by Barr for a loss of 9. That takedown, combined with an 8-yard sack on the following play by Danielle Hunter, helped put Miami behind the 8-ball and shift momentum back in favor of Minnesota, who went on to win the Week 15 contest.
The game was a monster performance for Barr, who recorded a career-high 2.0 sacks. He totaled seven tackles (team stats) and added two tackles for loss and four quarterback hurries.
Kendricks, Gedeon and Wilson also made an impact, combining for another 12 tackles and one sack (Kendricks).
2. At Detroit on Dec. 23, Wilson had a big outing in front of his hometown crowd.
Wilson, a native of Redford, Michigan, started his third career game and totaled seven tackles (coaches’ tally), a career-high three tackles for loss, a sack of Matthew Stafford (his second career) and three quarterback hurries.
Wilson’s performance helped Minnesota limit the Lions to just 223 total yards on offense. The Vikings defeated the Lions 27-9, sweeping the division-rival series for the season.
2 Lowest lows
1. The Vikings defense allowed its opponents to rush for more than 100 yards on eight occasions in 2018, one more than in 2017.
A particularly low spot against the run, however, reared its head in Seattle. Minnesota took the field in desperate need of a win after losing at New England the previous week, but things didn’t go the Vikings way. The Seahawks racked up a head-turning 216 yards on 42 carries.
Wilson was kept mostly in check, finishing just 10-of-20 for 72 yards passing with an interception, but the Vikings inability to get a grasp on the ground game contributed to Minnesota’s 21-7 loss.
2. Minnesota’s defense struggled a bit to start the season, including against a high-powered Rams offense in Week 4. The Vikings scored 31 points but fell to Los Angeles’ 38, which were scored largely by taking advantage of unfavorable matchups or miscommunications.
The Rams’ longest score came on a play in which Cooper Kupp appeared initially to be run blocking but then broke free in a 1-on-1 matchup with Barr, who couldn’t keep pace with the speedy receiver. Kupp scored a 70-yard touchdown to put the Rams up 14-10 in the second quarter.
A 31-yard touchdown by Woods also came over the top of Barr and put the Rams up by 10 late in the third quarter.
View the best exclusive images shot by team photographers of Vikings coaches during the 2018 season.
“I do what I’m asked to do. I feel like everybody gets caught up in the numbers and stats that might not blow you away, but I think I bring a lot of other things to the table that may go unnoticed from the common eye. I’ve got players and coaches coming up to me after the game, telling me, ‘You’re going a great job,’ ‘great player,’ this and that, and I think that’s the validation that I need, from guys around the league, from coaches, not so much the media and what other people think. It’s the guys in the locker room that are really the most important and have the most effect on me. I’ve been getting good feedback from those guys.”
— Barr when asked about playing a bigger role in the pass rush
“I think it was definitely a good game. Something [Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer] talked about during the team meeting was playing fast and physical. I think early before the game, [Vikings linebackers coach Adam Zimmer] sent us a text and said to bring the energy all game. I embodied that and tried to play fast and play physical. [He] told me, ‘Play fast and read your keys. and if you make a mistake, we’ll make an adjustment on the sideline.’ I tried to make smart plays and play fast and use my speed. On the same page, I need to not play too fast and allow them to create seams inside. Choosing my shots and when I take them is definitely something I need to improve on.”
_— Wilson in response to his Week 16 performance at Detroit _