EAGAN, Minn. — The surreal nature of the 2020 offseason transitioned into more uncommon experiences for Eric Kendricks last fall.
Kendricks withstood a virtual offseason program and the absence of preseason games — as well as the season-long loss of longtime running mate Anthony Barr in Week 2 — to deliver one of his finest seasons.
Kendricks described missing Barr, whom he teamed with and roomed with in college, as "definitely weird."
A calf injury suffered in a practice caused Kendricks to miss the final five games of 2020. It was no coincidence that a defense dilapidated by injuries struggled down that stretch.
"Frustrating. Obviously, you deal with injuries, and it's part of the game but you never really know what's going to happen," Kendricks said Wednesday after the second practice of a three-day mandatory minicamp in which he shined with a nifty interception. "Unfortunately, I felt like I was having one of the best seasons of my career and I wanted to obviously to help my team win games. So just not being there and being on the sideline was obviously disappointing, but we've been rehabbing, been recovering and feeling good, so I'm looking forward to this upcoming season."
The Vikings defense has replenished, reloaded and recruited.
Pro Bowlers Kendricks, Barr and Danielle Hunter, who said he is healthy and fired up for 2021, should be back in action after missing a combined 35 games.
Minnesota also brought back former Vikings Mackensie Alexander and Stephen Weatherly earlier this offseason and just reeled Sheldon Richardson back as well.
There are veteran signings at key positions like cornerback Patrick Peterson and defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson. There's also a new wave of players brought in via the 2021 NFL Draft.
"It's been great," Kendricks said of getting to know the new faces through the voluntary offseason program that was well-attended. "A lot of smiles, a lot of young guys who are funny, think they know everything from college, but it's pretty cool, it's pretty fun, just getting out there with the guys running around a bit, talking, communicating."
In addition to Richardson, Kendricks has enjoyed thinking about what the additions of Michael Pierce, who opted out of 2020 because of COVID-19 concerns, and 2021 addition Dalvin Tomlinson can mean for the interior of the defensive line as well as his middle linebacker spot. The player who led Minnesota in tackles in each of his first five seasons has often credited Vikings defensive tackles for freeing him up to make plays.
View photos of the Vikings second mandatory minicamp practice at the TCO Performance Center.
"Man, I'm excited. Personally, as a linebacker, standing behind those guys, what else could you want? What else could you ask for? But I'm truly blessed, excited to play with them and, yeah, I feel like we have a lot to look forward to," Kendricks said.