EAGAN, Minn. — The public window of 2022 Vikings Training Camp practices at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center will open July 30 with Back Together Saturday.
To get you ready for the return of football, we're going through a position-by-position preview of the Vikings. We've already covered the offense week with stories on quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, tight ends and the offensive line. Minnesota's defensive line started our focus on that side of the ball, followed by outside linebackers. Inside linebackers, which we'll simply refer to as linebackers, are up next.
Returning starter: Eric Kendricks, who has been the man in the middle for Minnesota since his first start in Week 4 of his 2015 rookie season. Often the base drumbeat of the entire defense, I've long considered Kendricks as the hub of a wagon wheel, with every other position functioning as a spoke. The hub makes each spoke run better.
Minnesota's shift this year to a base 3-4 means Kendricks will have company in an second inside linebacker. The Vikings added veteran experience by signing Jordan Hicks as free agency opened.
Also on the roster (listed alphabetically by last name): Brian Asamoah, Ryan Connelly, Troy Dye, William Kwenkeu, Blake Lynch and Chazz Surratt
2021 recap: Kendricks led the Vikings in tackles for the sixth time in seven seasons, totaling 143, including eight for losses and a career-best 5.0 sacks. He continued to be an all-around player, adding two interceptions, four passes defended and a fumble recovery. The Vikings opened in a nickel defense with Lynch and Nick Vigil at the two linebacker spots at Detroit in the first game Kendricks missed last season. Minnesota started Dye at middle linebacker, alongside Anthony Barr and Vigil in its 4-3 base in Week 18 against Chicago.
View the best photos of Vikings LB Eric Kendricks from the 2021 season.
3 Key Questions for the Vikings Linebackers
1. What does the shift mean for Kendricks?
To build on the reference to Kendricks being a hub that makes everything run better, consider this: the Vikings have gone 59-40-1 when Kendricks has played but are only 6-7 when he hasn't during his first seven seasons.
Although multiple other factors can come into play, that's a strong correlation for his importance, as well as Minnesota not being equipped to bridge any absences.
Will the Vikings shift to a 3-4 ease some of the reliance on having him in the lineup?
Will having a versatile running mate free up Kendricks to do some more work on the offense's side of the line of scrimmage?
New Vikings coaches have seen him impact games for the past several seasons and probably have some interesting ideas for ways to continue to maximize his array of abilities. They'll also likely lean on his leadership but might be well advised to have a way to cover if he misses any time.
2. How do Kendricks and Hicks work in tandem?
For the first time in his pro career, Kendricks will start a training camp not as a teammate of Barr, who was selected in 2014 and is a free agent at the time of this post.
Hicks was actually selected in the same year as Kendricks, a round later by Philadelphia, where he joined Kendricks' older brother Mychal Kendricks and helped the Eagles win Super Bowl LII.
Hicks has brought 89 regular-season starts to Minnesota after four seasons in Philadelphia and three more in Arizona. Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell was quite familiar with the challenges posed by Hicks from O'Connell's time as offensive coordinator with the Los Angeles Rams and an assistant with Washington.
Hicks and Kendricks have been tackling machines. Hicks has averaged 128 tackles over the past three seasons, and Kendricks has averaged 120 per season in that span.
Both will need to master their communication and collaboration.
3. Which less experienced players emerge during the preseason?
The Vikings drafted Asamoah early in the third round this year and signed Kwenkeu as an undrafted free agent. Asamoah may have been deemed undersized by some, but tell that to the same folks who said the same thing about Kendricks. He's got speed and made plays at the highest level of college football.
Dye and Lynch have been called upon in years past, and Connelly may have had more playing time if not for injury. The Eden Prairie native has played almost exclusively on special teams. Surratt, a former college QB who switch to linebacker at North Carolina, also has speed but was learning on the fly last year.