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Kendricks Makes Forceful Debut

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —The metallic ringing of a tackling dummy hit Friday by Vikings rookie linebacker Eric Kendricks sparked the imagination.

What exactly did the collisions between Kendricks and former Bruins teammate Anthony Barr look and sound like at campus practices before Barr switched from running back to linebacker?

The padded dummy is built to give way when enough force is applied. It's attached to a sled that has eight 100-pound plates of weights stacked on it to make it virtually immovable by most men.

Kendricks made it wiggle during his first professional practice that is part of a three-day rookie minicamp.

That impact, combined with Barr showing how resistive to blockers and how forceful he can be to ball carriers as a rookie in 2014, made the mind wonder.

A couple of hours before Kendricks' first practice as a Viking, he was asked if he had made some big hits on his former college roommate.

"I would definitely say so," Kendricks said. "He got some good hits on me, too. He's not a small guy."

Barr switched from offense to defense going into 2012, Kendricks' sophomore season, and the duo combined forces. Barr clamed the Lott IMPACT Award in 2013, and Kendricks gave UCLA an encore after last season and also claimed the Butkus Award.

Kendricks helped Barr transition to defense, though he said the switch wasn't hard. Now the reciprocal can happen in Minnesota, with Kendricks planning to learn from Barr.

"The transition wasn't that hard for him, it was the terminology and learning defenses and things like that," Kendricks said. "Anthony is an athlete, I had his back and we made calls together and he was able to get it done."

Kendricks received advice from Barr and his brother, Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks before the draft on what to expect in the lead up to the draft, but nerves still crept in as the three-day event approached.

"I had great mentors and people who were telling me what to expect and things like that," Kendricks said. "The whole draft process itself was a huge surprise. You're a lot more nervous than you think you're going to be. You've prepared your whole life for those couple of days, but you can never really prepare. Now, it's just playing ball, which is the fun part."

Kendricks experienced relief that the pre-draft process ended and excitement that he would be reuniting with Barr. Kendricks started at weakside linebacker and moved to the middle because of an injury to Patrick Larimore. The switch helped Kendricks learn more about the total defense, including Barr's role as an edge rusher/outside linebacker, and extended the opportunity to call plays.

"I was kind of in my own world playing weakside backer and just thinking, focusing on what I had to do," Kendricks said. "And when I was moved to middle, I had to focus around the whole defense and it just allowed me to understand defenses as a whole."

Moments after the Vikings drafted Kendricks with the 45th overall pick, Barr described Kendricks as "a natural leader, a very hard worker" who "loves the game of football."

"I think those things are just going to rub off on all the players in the locker room and people are going to gravitate toward him and we'll be good," Barr said.

Kendricks, listed at 6-feet and 235 pounds, said he takes pride in grasping the game mentally and playing with physicality.

"I watch film and things like that, and then I would definitely say my physicality, running around, tackling people, and then overall ball pursuit," Kendricks said. "I just try to get to the rock."

He did so a school-record total of 481 times, including 307 solo stops in four seasons.

How did he stack that many tackles?

"It's just one of those things that's part of me. I don't know how to explain it," Kendricks said. "I just get to the ball and try to get there fast. I'm a very instinctual linebacker. I've played a lot of running back and different positions so I have a good grasp of what's going on around me even when I might not really see it."

Analysts have said Kendricks was the most instinctive linebacker in the draft, and Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer concurred Friday. Zimmer said Kendricks will begin at middle linebacker but might one day move to the weakside.

"Kendricks is a very instinctive playmaker," Zimmer said. "He makes a lot of plays and is very intelligent. You could tell that today in meetings and when he was out here making the calls and getting things set up. We're going to start him at 'Mike' linebacker and see where it goes. We believe eventually down the road he'll be a 'Will' linebacker for us but you never know."

Two things, however, were certain for Kendricks: the pre-draft nerves are gone and have been replaced by the joy of practicing with teammates.

"Football is football, and I loved it," he said. "It's been a while since I put a helmet on, so it was very exciting for me."

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