Fans and media sure can be a picky pack of people.
We look at a 252-pound middle linebacker like Jasper Brinkley, call him a “two-down thumper” and complain that he lacks the speed and agility to be a “three-down playmaker.”
Then we look at a 232-pound middle linebacker like Eric Kendricks, call him a “three-down playmaker” and complain that he lacks the size of a “two-down thumper.”
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.”
Neither is the guy who won the 2014 Butkus Award. (Note to those who think the world was created the day they were born: The Butkus Award is named after a fella named Dick Butkus. Google him. He was pretty good). Neither is the guy who made a school-record 481 tackles at UCLA, and twice led FBS schools in solo tackles for an entire season.
“I played middle linebacker throughout college,” Kendricks said. “I started off as a weakside backer, really young. Our middle linebacker, Patrick Leamer, got hurt and unfortunately had to retire, so I was forced into the middle and I had to make calls within two weeks of a game. I was kind of forced into it, but it was the best thing that could have happened to me.”
Asked if he thought he needed to gain weight, Kendricks said, “At 235 lbs, I’m pretty comfortable at it. I could play fast, I could play tough. I just feel comfortable at it. We’ll see if I need to gain weight, I’ve never had a problem gaining weight or losing weight, so we’ll see.”