EAGAN, Minn. — Any discussion about Vikings linebackers the past several seasons has involved the play of 2014 first-round pick Anthony Barr and 2015 second-round selection Eric Kendricks.
This year likely will be the same, thanks to Barr opting to re-sign with Minnesota for less money than was reportedly offered by the New York Jets after his initial rookie deal expired. Kendricks had already received a contract extension but re-worked his deal to help the salary cap-strapped Vikings.
The relationship between Barr and Kendricks began when they were teammates and eventual roommates at UCLA. It is one of style and substance, as noted on the cover of the 2019 Vikings Yearbook.
In the cover story, Vikings linebackers coach Adam Zimmer describes how each player makes the other better.
“They’re constantly talking about things, and there’s things that Anthony does that help Eric. There’s things that Eric does that help Anthony,” Zimmer said. “When Anthony calls the huddle and Eric can just play, Eric’s a lot better football player. When Eric is doing some things on the coverage side and Anthony can do his thing, pass rushing or whatever, Anthony is a better football player, so it’s a really good dynamic.”
Zimmer recently spoke with Vikings.com’s Mike Wobschall about what it’s like to coach the dynamic duo and described how Barr and Kendricks help pass along what they’ve learned through their first five and four seasons, respectively, in Minnesota.
“It’s been really great, because now you ask them stuff, how they see things, how they think it should be played out and see how they feel because they know the people so well that we can run things by them and try new things to help them be better players and be more dynamic in the future,” Zimmer said. “The way they play off of each other is really good. They make adjustments that are hard for the young guys. It’s secondhand now.”
The examples set forth by Barr and Kendricks enable younger players to “actually see how it works in a defense and why it works,” Zimmer said.
With Verizon Vikings Training Camp on the horizon (rookies and select other players arrive on July 22 and veterans report on July 25), Vikings.com is looking at Minnesota’s group of assistant coaches and their position groups.
Here is background info on Zimmer:
— Zimmer is entering his sixth season as linebackers coach of the Vikings and 14th as an NFL assistant. He began his coaching career as a defensive assistant with New Orleans in 2006. He was the team’s assistant linebackers coach in 2009 when the Saints won the Super Bowl. Zimmer then held the same role with the Chiefs from 2010-12 before becoming an assistant defensive backs coach with the Bengals in 2013.
— Zimmer played safety for Trinity University in San Antonio from 2002-05 and graduated in 2006.
— Born in Ogden, Utah, when Mike Zimmer was an assistant at Weber State, Adam spent much of his youth in Texas.
— Zimmer served as the head coach for the West team at the annual East-West Shrine Game in January, capitalizing on the opportunity to see multiple prospects up close.
Check out behind the scenes photos and more from Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks' photo shoot for the cover of the 2019 Vikings Yearbook. Order your copy today by clicking HERE.
In addition to Barr and Kendricks, the Vikings linebackers group is returning Ben Gedeon, Eric Wilson, Kentrell Brothers and Devante Downs.
Gedeon, a fourth-round pick in 2017, was the starting “Will” linebacker when the Vikings were in their base 4-3 defense. Wilson, who joined the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2017, made a career-high four starts when Barr or Kendricks was out of the lineup.
“The experience that those two got last year was huge for those guys. I expect them to keep getting better,” Zimmer said. “Ben Gedeon, I love the kid. He does everything right. Everyone says he’s not good enough or whatever, but he’s always in the right position. He’s never going to get beaten because of bad technique, and he finds the football.”
Brothers, a fifth-round pick in 2016, appeared in 12 games, primarily as a core special teamer. Downs, a seventh-round pick in 2018, bounced back from an injury that ended his college career to appear in 11 games (mostly on special teams).
Reshard Cliett is also back after spending last season on the practice squad. He originally began his career as a sixth-round pick by the Texans in 2015 but has not appeared in a regular-season game.
The Vikings added Cameron Smith out of USC with a fifth-round pick in April and signed free agent Greer Martini after the Alliance of American Football abruptly ended. Martini spent time on the Packers practice squad last season as an undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame.
Zimmer told Wobschall that his interest in Smith began at the Reese’s Senior Bowl. As Zimmer talked to the prospect he thought, “Wow, this is a really sharp, smart kid.”
“You watch the tape once you get back, and he’s making plays sideline to sideline,” Zimmer added. “He can run, has good athleticism, is solid in the running game, so all of those [qualities] are things that a modern type of linebacker needs to have, being smart, being fast and able to match up with these tight ends and running backs out of the backfield.”
Zimmer said he thought his group showed improvement in “a lot of areas” over the course of the Vikings offseason program and he wants the group to pick up where it left off when camp opens. After two days of practices next week, the pads are scheduled to go on Sunday, July 28.
Zimmer said his message to the group for the lull between minicamp and training camp was to rest but not regress.
“We gained so much in the offseason program, I want to keep building on what we did in the OTAs and minicamp and take that to the next level.” Zimmer said. “Once we get the pads on, I want to see our physicality and fitting up the run, basics that we couldn’t do in OTAs.”