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Breakup artists Eric Kendricks, Captain Munnerlyn defend middle

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Eric Kendricks' arms said no, but his head shook, "Yes!"

Kendricks had just covered a slant route by Chiefs rookie receiver Chris Conley in the third quarter of Minnesota's 16-10 win over Kansas City. The linebacker met Conley with clean but brute force as cornerback Terence Newman came in from the other side. The ball fell to the turf.

Kendricks pointed his arms out from his sides to signal the incompletion and nodded in celebration.

"See the ball and you've got to get it out," Kendricks said Wednesday. "It's a battle. I try to get it out all the time. It's frustrating when they catch it though. I can tell you that."

The Chiefs tested Kendricks again over the middle on their final series of the game, and he did his job against tight end Travis Kelce, starting a string of four straight incompletions that sealed the Vikings victory.

The efforts were part of a 13-tackle (coaches' tally) performance that included his second sack in as many starts and landed Kendricks a nomination for Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week along with Vikings rookie receiver Stefon Diggs.

Kendricks has three pass breakups on the season, which is tied with Terence Newman and Xavier Rhodes for second behind the four recorded by Captain Munnerlyn, who made an impressive diving breakup on a pass to Jason Avant Sunday.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer mentioned plays made by Munnerlyn late. The veteran has been able to focus on nickel back duties this season and is thriving.

The presence of Rhodes and Newman on the outside could prompt offenses to try looking inside more often, but Munnerlyn and Kendricks have been playing well. Munnerlyn said he's been impressed by the way Kendricks has quickly adjusted from college to the NFL.

"He seems like he belongs in this league. I feel like he's going to play a very long time," Munnerlyn said. "You've got to learn to play in the defense and play without your hands being on the receiver, so it's definitely different. They call everything in the NFL on you. You touch them after five yards, it's a penalty, so you've definitely got to learn that and guys on this team do a great job with that."

Kendricks ranks third in tackles tallied by Vikings coaches this season with 33, including a team-high 27 solo. Harrison Smith has 41 (26 solo), and Anthony Barr has 34 (24 solo).

In prepping to host the Vikings this Sunday, Lions Head Coach Jim Caldwell said he's been impressed by what he's seen on film of Kendricks.

"He's the leading tackler right now, or near the top for the team. When you see that, you know he's active," Caldwell said. "You can see it on film, he moves around well. He's a real factor in all phases and looks like he plays with a lot of spirit and emotion."

Changeups?: It will be just a little more than a month since the Vikings and Lions met in Week 2.

Will it be tempting for teams to alter what they'd normally do in order to show something different?

"Everybody has their different philosophies with that," Zimmer said. "It's good to have some change, so everything is not the same. The issue that you get into is that they'll probably change some, you'll probably change some and it ends up being a lot of change. The biggest part about it to me is the different types of injuries that each team has that change how you use your personnel a little bit, that change how you can use your guys a little bit differently against their guys and so on."

Kendricks was inserted into the starting lineup in Week 4 at Denver when Diggs made his pro debut.

"This is my first time playing a team twice this close together," Kendricks said. "Maybe it's a good thing that we know them a little bit and have a background on them, but maybe they're going to change that up and know that we know about them, so they're going to bring different schemes with different tendencies."

Sunday will be just the second time in history that Minnesota has completed its home and away slate with an NFC North opponent before facing another divisional foe at least once. The Vikings swept the Lions in 2012 before splitting games with Green Bay and Chicago.

Robinson returns to practice:Josh Robinson practiced for the first time this season on Wednesday. Robinson opened the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list while he recovered from a torn pectoral injury.

"It was good to be back out there," Robinson said. "I feel comfortable with it, no problems with it. I'm just ready to work. … We've been working since training camp, so I'm in pretty good shape. I'm just waiting on them to make decisions."

The Vikings have up to three weeks of practice to make a decision on Robinson's roster status. He does not count toward the 53-player maximum for the active/inactive roster while he is being evaluated.

Zimmer said Robinson has stayed connected while on the mend.

"He comes to all of the meetings, pays attention and all that stuff," Zimmer said. "I don't know, we'll just have to see how it goes today as we get going and this week. It's different when you're watching and when you're covering somebody. That'll be a little bit different I'm sure."

Ellis' island roots: The Vikings signed defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis and placed Shamar Stephen on injured reserve Tuesday. The fifth-year pro will fill in for the 2014 seventh-round selection and began doing so Wednesday.

Ellis was born in May Pen, Clarendon Parish, Jamaica and lived on the south side of the island until he was 11. His family moved near Miami, and he first really learned about football when he saw youngsters wearing their pads in a grocery store before they went to practice.

"I always thought I was going to be a kicker because our primary sport is soccer," said Ellis, who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 335 pounds. "That's the main sport down there, so in order to fit in, you had to play football. I was a big guy and started playing.

"As soon as I got here, I realized that (being a kicker) was non-existent," Ellis added. "That was just a fantasy, man. I didn't know any better and as I learned about different positions and aspects of the game, I ended up falling into a defensive tackle position in high school. I started out on offense. A guy got hurt, and I just tried it out. That was 10th grade. I've been blessed to have this opportunity since 2002. I'm blessed, happy and thankful."

Click here to read more about Ellis.

Undergoing tests: Everson Griffen, who missed Sunday's game with Kansas City because of illness, did not practice Wednesday.

Zimmer said the defensive end was "finishing up some tests" and added, "We anticipate that everything will finish good."

Injury reports: In addition to Griffen, Sharrif Floyd (knee/ankle) and Justin Trattou (foot) did not participate.

Newman (ankle), T.J. Clemmings (knee), Matt Asiata (ribs) and Adrian Peterson (finger) were limited at practice Wednesday. Jarius Wright (hand) and Charles Johnson (ribs) fully participated.

For the Lions: S James Ihedigbo (quad), LB DeAndre Levy (hip), TE Brandon Pettigrew (knee/elbow) and CB Josh Wilson (concussion) did not participate Wednesday. LB Josh Bynes (hip), TE Eric Ebron (knee), DE Jason Jones (neck), P Sam Martin (left knee), DT Haloti Ngata (calf) RB Theo Riddick (groin) and Tahir Whitehead (shoulder) were limited participants. RB Joique Bell (ankle) fully participated.

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