EAGAN, Minn. — Early in the fourth quarter, Eric Kendricks celebrated a sack by running around and waving his hands.
Later in the quarter, as most of the Vikings defense gathered for a group photo after a Mackensie Alexander interception, the Vikings linebacker did a handstand in the end zone.
More than six weeks into the NFL season, it’s tough to find someone having more fun on the field for the Vikings than Kendricks.
In the locker room after Minnesota’s 38-20 win over the Eagles on Sunday, the fifth-year linebacker explained how he stays loose with his easy-going mindset.
“It’s always fun winning,” Kendricks said. “I just enjoy playing this game. That’s what it comes down to. When I’m out there, I try to look around [and realize], ‘I’m out here.’ I never take it for granted.
“I always try to remember to have fun out there. It’s a stressful game with wins and losses and people’s jobs on the line,” Kendricks added. “I feel like if I just keep it the same game as when I was a child, or when I was out there on Saturday morning in sixth grade, then it’s going to be all good. I have my teammates here that I work so hard with, and we deserve to have that fun, especially when we’re up like that.”
Kendricks had plenty of reason to be in good spirits after Sunday’s win. He was credited with 11 total tackles according to coaches’ stats, which tied for a game-high with Anthony Barr.
Kendricks also added a tackle for loss, split the sack with Alexander, forced a fumble [that was recovered by Barr] and broke up a pair of passes.
The former second-round pick has been the man in the middle of Minnesota’s linebackers group for four-plus seasons and has gained the trust of Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer.
“We’re asking him to do a lot of things,” Zimmer said. “He’s a talented guy — he can cover, he can run, get sideline to sideline. He can do a lot of things.”
Kendricks’ stellar start to the season has him ranked as the league’s second-best linebacker by Pro Football Focus, an analytics website whose ratings haven’t always been in line with Zimmer.
But the head coach had fun with it Monday, as he jokingly pumped his fist when told about the ranking.
“I’m excited about that,” Zimmer said with a coy smile.
Kendricks has led the Vikings in tackles in each of his first four seasons in the NFL. Add in those 11 combined tackles from Sunday and his total is now up to 61 total tackles, according to coaches’ stats.
View the Vikings in "Big Head Mode" following the 38-20 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 6 at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Unsurprisingly, that leads the defense yet again. But Kendricks said he isn’t concerned with personal accolades, including potentially making his first trip to a Pro Bowl.
“I always feel like I’m just a little underrated. That’s just how it’s going to be,” Kendricks said Monday morning on a conference call with the Twin Cities media. “I go out and try to be the best person I can be, and try to accomplish things I’ve never accomplished before. [The Pro Bowl] being one of them, that’s definitely on the list of things to do.
“But it doesn’t take over my motivation or anything like that. It doesn’t consume my thoughts. That’s kind of an afterthought. I’m just trying to get these wins with the team and do damage,” Kendricks added. “Whatever happens, happens. I can’t try to force anything. I would be lying if I said I didn’t think about it, but I try not to let it consume my thoughts.”
Still, even after Pro Football Focus gave him a grade of 91.5 for his performance Sunday [the second-highest on defense], Kendricks still knew he had plenty to improve on by the next day.
Kendricks, who noted his energy level was on-point all game, was also in coverage on a 32-yard touchdown pass to Eagles running back Miles Sanders in the second quarter.
“I feel like I was into the game from the very jump. I feel like we were tuned it,” Kendricks said. “Sometimes it takes a series or two to get locked in, but I feel like we were right from the very start of the game, which is what you want. I was into it and running around. I wasn’t trying to force things, but I was finding the ball.
“But in the same breath, there are things I could have done to put our team in an even better position at times,” Kendricks added. “Whether that was in coverage, or maybe my eyes were bad at something and I could have gotten there quicker, just things, me personally, I’m working on to be the best I can be.”
Zimmer agreed with the latter part of Kendricks’ assessment of his own game.
“Early in the game, he wasn’t very good in coverage a couple times,” Zimmer said. “[Vikings linebackers coach] Adam [Zimmer] said it looked like rookie Eric Kendricks.
“Then he settled down and got back to playing really well,” Zimmer added. “He just has to stay disciplined in his coverage.”
More than half of Minnesota’s starting defense has been named to at least one Pro Bowl, a group that includes Danielle Hunter, Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen, Barr, Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith.
Now in Year 5, Kendricks isn’t among that group — yet.
But the linebacker is just fine blending in and making plays, all while having tons of fun doing so.
“Oh man, we have a bunch of studs. But it is what it is,” Kendricks said of being underrated. “I feel like it’s one of those things where it’s been my life story.
“I feel like it hasn’t been a bad thing, that’s just who I am,” Kendricks added. “I have to embrace that, and I kind of love it, honestly.”