Can a "thumper" and "playmaker" exist in one linebacker's body? Has an increased passing presence created the need for the position to modernize?
Star Tribune's Mark Craig approached the topic here, differentiating between "two-down thumper," a phrase often used to describe former Vikings linebacker Jasper Brinkley (252 pounds) and 2015 second-round pick Eric Kendricks (232 pounds), who has a history of making tackles, but also may be considered a "three-down playmaker" by fans and media in the NFL. Brinkley started 11 games at middle linebacker for the Vikings in 2014, but headed for the sideline when Minnesota incorporated a sub package to put a faster player on the field in situations with higher likelihood of a passing play.
Unless Brian Urlacher climbs into Hot Tub Time Machine III, returns to the year 2000 and brings his younger self back to sign with the Vikings, Kendricks looks more like the NFL's modern version of the three-down middle linebacker than most of us realize. (Besides, we all know by now that you can't interact with yourself when you travel back in time. Duh.).
If that's not good enough to calm your nerves, let's all crawl out onto a very short limb and suggest that Vikings coach Mike Zimmer might have a better idea as to the type of middle linebacker who best fits the defensive scheme he has been building for decades.
"I like big guys," Zimmer said last week when asked about his small MLB. "But the thing about us defensively is that the way we play with our defensive line, some of the linebackers can be a little bit smaller because part of the job of the defensive line is to keep our linebackers free so that they can run and hit. I'm not concerned about his size."
Craig noted that Kendricks, who set the UCLA record with 481 career tackles, said he isn't worried about his weight and feels he can play fast and tough.
Kendricks said during a media session Friday that he wouldn't anticipate any problems with changing weights and he feels comfortable in the 235 range. He also looked quite comfortable leading defensive huddles and hitting tackling dummies during last weekend's rookie minicamp.
USA Today's Steven Ruiz listed the Vikings as one of four "sleeper teams poised" to break into the playoffs in 2015. The other three were the Giants, Jets and Buccaneers. Ruiz noted Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's reputation as an "excellent developer of talent," young pupils aiming to turn the defense into a "monster," and Teddy Bridgewater's progression, saying the second-year pro played "as well as any quarterback in the league in the month of December." Ruiz listed the 2014 Lions, 2013 Panthers and 2011 49ers as recent examples.