MANKATO, Minn. — It's been hard to miss Eric Kendricks in his first two seasons in Purple, as the linebacker has led the Vikings in tackles both years.
The linebacker has racked up back-to-back 100-plus tackle seasons and has added 6.5 sacks, all while learning the complexities of Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's defense.
Yet as the former UCLA standout prepares for his third season, he's more focused on the other side of the ball.
No, the former running back is not switching positions. He's simply more aware with how the opposition is trying to attack him.
"I obviously want to improve on my game, and I did a lot last year from my rookie year," Kendricks said. "Now I just want to understand more of the offense and what they're doing.
"I have a better understanding of the defense more, but I just want to fly to the rock and make plays," Kendricks added. "I don't want to say I have (the defense) down, but I've got a good feeling for our side of the ball. Right now I just want to be able to make those big plays for my team."
Vikings linebackers coach Adam Zimmer has seen Kendricks' approach up close.
"He's just having a better understanding of route concepts and the types of runs he's getting," Adam Zimmer said. "The better understanding he has of that, the better he can play it on defense, and he's really good at playing our defense."
Kendricks joined the Vikings as a second-round pick in 2015 and had 105 total tackles (according to coaches' tally) with 4.0 sacks and 11 tackles for loss.
He responded with another strong season in 2016 and recorded 126 total tackles (according to coaches' tally) with 10 tackles for loss.
While there was some talk of the 25-year-old potentially moving to the outside, Kendricks said the heart of Minnesota's defense suits him just fine.
"That's where I feel comfortable, absolutely," Kendricks said. "I've been playing Mike for a while now … I like it the best because I can run to both sides of the [field].
"I feel like this defense has always complemented my abilities as a linebacker," Kendricks added.
Those abilities include being one of the most athletic linebackers on the Vikings roster, a player who can cover sideline to sideline.
Kendricks had a strong year in pass coverage in 2016, tallying 11 passes defended — nine more than his rookie season.
"He's extremely athletic, and his instinctiveness adds to it," Adam Zimmer said. "He can make plays all over the field. We saw that the last two years. He's special in that way."
Kendricks noted Wednesday that his game is still improving. But he didn't deny what his mission is on the field.
"If it's a pass I try to not let them catch it," Kendricks said with a smile. "And if it's a run, then I try to stop them as fast as possible."
Kendricks knows the plan and plans to do it.