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Kendricks-Hicks Vision Aligning Behind Powerful Phillips-Tomlinson Combo

EAGAN, Minn. — Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks have been NFL linebackers since 2015.

They've independently racked up tackles and made game-changing plays, processing information along the way.

Those experiences are helping them grow together as first-time teammates who are paired as the inside linebackers in Minnesota's new 3-4 base defense.

"We see a lot of things the same way, which is exciting," said Hicks, who signed in free agency after four seasons with Philadelphia and three more in Arizona. "You don't often get to play next to somebody who has the experience, talent and the ability to see things the same way, so to have all three from both of us is a lot of fun. Every day is a new day, and we're trying to get better, feel each other with how we play. Our instincts play a role in what we see."

Kendricks agreed, saying, "We definitely see things a lot of the same way."

"We were both playing 4-3 for a while, so a lot of the 4-3 nickel schemes, we see the gaps exchange the same way. Our progression reads are very like-minded," Kendricks said. "Things that make sense to us, they make sense to both of us, and the things that don't make sense, usually we can agree on that, as well."

It doesn't mean they play everything perfectly at this point, but it does help considerably.

"It's good because we get beat on something, we both know at the same time why we got beat, and then we get another chance to get a different look at it," Kendricks said. "Each day we're out here, we're getting beat but we're also making plays.

"They're all things to talk about. That communication off the field, as well as adjustments on the field, is very important, and we both have the same lingo," he added. "We both are at eight years in the league, so we both know what is going on."

In addition to complimenting one another, Kendricks and Hicks are working on complementing each other in Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell's system.

Kendricks turned in an impressive interception during Monday's session, diving in front of a pass intended for tight end Johnny Mundt. Hicks had a nice disruption after quickly knifing into the backfield on Minnesota's first day of 2022 Vikings Training Camp in full pads.

Hicks said he tries to pick Donatell's brain "all the time."

"He's seen a lot, done a lot. He's coached the greats, so every time he's teaching, you try to take something from him," Hicks said. "It's been a pleasure for me to be out here and understand his philosophy. For all he's seen, he's still cutting edge. He's doing a great job of coaching."

The Kendricks-Hicks combo also stands to benefit from the pairing on the defensive line of 2021 free agent Dalvin Tomlinson and newcomer Harrison Phillips.

"Dalvin and Harrison Phillips, you know, they're a coach's dream," Donatell said. "There isn't a room in the NFL that has those type – they're up with anybody, I haven't seen every room. We just love the leadership every day. They're going to lead the charge. It's a gift."

Tomlinson has prior experience in a 3-4 in the NFL (all but his 2017 rookie season with the Giants and last year with the Vikings) and in college at Alabama that has helped Phillips' transition.

"Dalvin has been very, very instrumental," Phillips said. "I mean, he's been doing this in the NFL at a very high level, probably one of the best to do it at the defensive tackle position, so learning from him.

"We're different players. Although we have so many similarities, you can only watch people who kind of are more your body type, more your speed, more your technique," Phillips added. "I'll turn around after seeing something on film and ask him, 'Hey, would you have played this this way? Am I OK if I tighten up here, because I'm more of an attack guy?' So we have really good balance between us. And vice versa – sometimes he sees the way I'll see a block, and I'll kind of change my hand placement or foot placement and he'll ask me, 'Hey, what did you see on that? Were you anticipating a certain play?' So we can learn off each other."

Tomlinson said the pairing with Phillips and outside linebackers Danielle Hunter and Za'Darius Smith should give opponents four Vikings among Minnesota's front that they'll "have to game plan for each and every play."

"Just how powerful and strong (Phillips) is in the middle, he's going to be capable of making a lot of plays up front for us," Tomlinson said.

The strength up front of Tomlinson and Phillips, plus the threats from the edges posed by Smith and Hunter, could create ample opportunities for Kendricks and Hicks near the center of the defense.