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Vikings Kendricks, Panthers Kuechly Involved in Middle Linebacker Modernization

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Middle linebackers are still asked to perform the timeless tasks of stuffing the run and racking up tackles, but the to-do list is a lot longer because of the importance of stopping NFL passing attacks.

Players such as Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks and Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly have been involved in the evolvement of modern-day middle linebackers.

"You could say that," Kendricks said of the new-age moniker. "I just try to be myself and fit within the scheme of the defense.

"As long as I'm doing that, then I'm making plays," he added. "But you have to cover the field these days. It's a fast game, and you have to be able to move at linebacker."

Kendricks and Kuechly have each demonstrated their versatility thus far in their careers.

With Kendricks, it was perhaps best on display during his pick-6 against Tennessee. The 24-year-old initially read run, switched to pass coverage and was then athletic enough to pick off Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota and race 77 yards for a score.

Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards said the play rewarded hard work by Kendricks, a second-round pick in 2015.

"I know what kind of work ethic that he has and I can see the production that he brings to the table for us," Edwards said. "Glad that he's on our team."

Kuechly, a three-time Pro Bowler, is also known for his all-around play and is **one of three NFL players** with 12 or more interceptions and five or more sacks since 2012. He's had at least 100 tackles in his first four seasons of his career and helped the Panthers get to Super Bowl 50.

Through the first 16 games of his career, Kendricks has been all over the place, racking up 117 tackles with 4.0 sacks, two passes defended, an interception for a touchdown and a forced fumble.

Kuechly, the No. 9 overall pick in 2012, has become one of the game's best linebackers and an unquestionable key cog in Carolina. He had 164 tackles with 1.0 sack, eight passes defended, two interceptions and three forced fumbles in his first 16 games.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said his linebacker may not be as far along as Carolina's at the moment, but he might be on his way. 

"I wouldn't put Kendricks in that category yet," Zimmer said. "I think Kuechly is obviously a great player — he's very instinctive and he's got size and range and smarts and toughness."

When asked about Kuechly, Vikings players and coaches praised him as one of the best linebackers in the league.

"I think he's one of the best in the game because his instincts are incredible," Kendricks said. "When we see the Carolina film, he definitely has great instincts."

Edwards added: "I know he's a very smart football player, he's a physical, downhill player. He does a good job as far as tackling in the open field, he does a good job as far as coverage with the concepts that they do. He's a unique player."

Likewise, Kuechly said he enjoys watching Kendricks and fellow linebacker Anthony Barr.

"They're active. I think that's what is fun, is that they're active linebackers that can rush, that can cover, and they run to the ball," Kuechly said. "They're not just downhill, big bruisers.

"They're guys that can get out in space and make plays and run around and make tackles and get after the passer," he added. "They're fun guys to watch because of the versatility that they have."

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