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Kendricks Ready to Help Boost Vikings Run Defense

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Vikings have expressed a desire to improve their run defense this preseason.

The Vikings allowed 4.5 yards per carry in four exhibition games after allowing 4.3 per carry in the 2015 season. 

Minnesota has been without middle linebacker Eric Kendricks, who led the Vikings with 105 tackles as a rookie.

The second-year linebacker missed the entire preseason but is poised to slide back into his starting spot in the middle on Sunday at Tennessee for what could be a physical contest.

"I've been practicing hard and going over the film the same way I always do," Kendricks said Wednesday. "I only expect one thing, and the coaches expect a lot out of me.

"I have to make a big difference this weekend and I'm going to show up," he later added.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said he'd like to see him team get stouter against the run but said Wednesday that exhibition games can be taken with a grain of salt.

"I think it was OK," Zimmer said of the run defense. "It's hard to evaluate when No. 1, you're not game-planning, and No. 2, you're missing some guys.

"Kendricks would probably make a big difference in a lot of those things," he added. "The things you can evaluate during the preseason, to me, are tackling, the technique that your guys are playing, stuff like that." 

Know the Tennessee Titans key contributors on offense, defense and special teams heading into the Vikings-Titans game Sunday.

The Vikings will certainly get a stern test in Tennessee's two-headed attack of running backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, a second-round pick this past April. 

The Titans rushed for 644 yards on 120 carries this preseason, good for an average of 5.37 yards per carry.

Murray rushed for 153 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries while Henry added 216 yards and three scores on 34 carries.

Add in an elusive quarterback in Marcus Mariota, and Zimmer said the Vikings will have their hands full.

"I think that they have an excellent running game, obviously. I think their offensive line is playing well," Zimmer said. "DeMarco Murray is a heck of a back. I think he's had a transformation when he came there, as opposed to where he has was last year. He looks a lot like he was in Dallas (when he rushed for an NFL-best 1,845 yards in 2014).

"And then, Henry is a guy that really everybody liked in the draft. He's a big, physical guy that has great feet and acceleration," he added. "So I think all of those things and then the combination of Mariota with the things he can do with his legs, as well. It makes it difficult."

Defensive end Everson Griffen said the biggest key for the run defense is to be effective early and give the Vikings pass rushers a chance to pressure Mariota.

"The biggest thing for us to do is stop the run," Griffen said. "By stopping the run, it's playing your gap and doing your job. It's simple.

"You get rewarded by being able to rush the passer," he added.

Kendricks said that's a recipe for success the Vikings are looking to follow in their season opener.

"They're going to come at us," Kendricks said. "They have a good stable of backs and they want to be physical.

"So far this preseason that's what we're seeing (from them) – a physical run game," he added. "It's our job to stop it."

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