Vikings rookie linebacker Eric Kendricks made up for his short frame with his athleticism and intelligence while at UCLA.
Though it’s only OTAs, Kendricks has displayed both of those strengths so far with the Vikings. Listed at six feet and 232 pounds, Kendricks was used mainly at first team middle linebacker on Thursday.
“I would say he’s further ahead than most rookies,” Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said about Kendricks’ intelligence. “It’s a lot different. [Anthony] Barr was pretty sharp when he came in last year. They’re all different. Eric has been doing a good job. He’s obviously got a lot of athletic ability.”
Kendricks has a shot to become a starter this season and play alongside Barr, his former teammate at UCLA, and veteran Chad Greenway at linebacker. He said he’s leaned on Barr and the veterans on the team since he arrived at Winter Park to help ease the adjustment from college to the NFL.
“They’re showing me little clues, little steps here and there that I’m picking up out of college,” Kendricks said. “I’m picking it up slowly, but I’m willing to work. As long as I’m willing to work, I know that I’ll pick it up faster.”
Despite his size, Kendricks said he has been comfortable dropping back in coverage as the middle linebacker in nickel coverage so far, even hinting that at times he’s a little too comfortable.
“I want to cover too much too fast, and I’m not patient enough,” Kendricks said. “They’re just trying to get my eyes right ,slow me down a little bit, not get so anxious and realize I have help in certain situations.”
If Torii Hunter achieved one thing Wednesday night, it is this: a good chunk of the discussion about the Twins on Thursday is not about their recent tailspin but rather is about a nearly 40-year-old man melting down to the point that he at least was in the beginning stages of a Slap Shot-esque striptease.
This piece of veteran savvy was not likely on Hunter’s mind as he stewed about what he believed was a revenge call on a ball a few inches outside that was instead called a strike, but it is a byproduct — locally and nationally — that has taken at least some of the focus off of the team’s woes.
Let me redirect your attention, then, back to the real story: a slumping Twins offense that has been dreadful in June. I mention that bad stretch with full knowledge that the month is only 10 games old and that almost every capable team will go through a rough patch or two in a season (the 1991 Twins, who won 95 games and the World Series, started out 2-9 and had two other separate meaningful stretches that season in which they went 1-7 and 2-8).
So let’s treat it for what it is: a cause for concern if it continues, but not a cause for alarm because it can’t be this bad for long. But let’s still look at those numbers because they explain why the Twins are struggling so much right now (and probably explains at least some of the reason Hunter had such a quick tantrum trigger).
*Pitching most definitely has not been the problem. The Twins have gone 3-7 in June, but their team ERA this month is a sparkling 3.17 — better than it was in April (4.36) or the red-hot month of May (3.57) in which the Twins went 20-7.
*The team’s hitting, however, has taken a huge nosedive. After a pedestrian month of April scoring close to four runs a game, the Twins jumped up to 5.15 runs per game in May. In June so far, they’ve scored just 25 runs — 2.5 per game, or less than half of what they were scoring last month. Within that offensive drop-off we see predictable drops in almost every number, including a team OPS that went from a very good .743 in May to a really bad .566 so far in June.
*Some of it, however, has to do with a little bad luck. The Twins are actually putting the ball in play more often this month than in previous months. As a team, they struck out 1 of every 4.65 plate appearances in a April, once every 5.01 in May … and 1 of ever 5.40 in June. But if they were somewhat fortunate before — their .314 batting average on balls in play in May is above the league average — they are unlucky now. Their BABIP through 10 games in June is just .235, well below the major league average.
Offensively, the Twins will surely get some better luck as the games wear on … though envisioning them as a 5-plus runs per game team for the long haul is also not realistic. The likely conclusion is they’ll settle in somewhere in the middle — just as the overall team will settle in somewhere between that 20-7 May juggernaut and the 3-7 June jugger-not (so, so sorry).
In the meantime, Hunter’s game of strip baseball is an unintentionally clever diversion, perhaps a suspension-worthy event, but not much more.
The Vikings conducted their final organized team activity practice today at Winter Park, and once again they were without the services of starters Anthony Barr, Brian Robison and Phil Loadholt in team drills.
However, coach Mike Zimmer indicated after the morning workout that all three injured players could participate during next week’s minicamp.
Zimmer continues to be mum about the nature of Barr’s injury. The young linebacker missed the final four games of 2014 with a knee injury, but Zimmer says Barr has been sidelined by something different.
“He’s over the hump now,” Zimmer said. “I anticipate him getting some [reps] next week. I don’t know how much.”
Robison injured his pectoral at the facility last month and has downplayed the injury. He was spotted running sprints inside the fieldhouse while teammates conducted the two-minute drill late in today’s practice.
“I anticipate that he’ll probably be back next week,” Zimmer said. “We’re going to be careful with him. We may give him some individual work and some of the situation stuff, but we’re going to be careful with him. Same with Loadholt. I anticipate that he’ll be back out here. And we’re still trying to be a little careful with [left guard Brandon] Fusco.”
Loadholt tore his pectoral last November and is almost ready to return.
Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, meanwhile, sat out practice again due to a right foot injury. But it’s a good sign he is out of a walking boot.
Among those practicing today were linebacker Gerald Hodges and rookie offensive lineman T.J. Clemmings, who limped off the field last Thursday.
Clemmings lined up at right tackle on the second team today after being with the starters at right guard earlier in the spring. Replacing him at that spot was fellow rookie Tyrus Thompson, who played tackle in college.
It would be unwise to read too much into the configuration of the offensive line. The Vikings have been shuffling players around through the spring.
Before I head to the coffee shop to write tomorrow’s newspaper story about another young lineman, I’ll share another observation: Rookie Eric Kendricks has settled in at middle linebacker. He got all of the first-team reps at that spot again today — and nearly made a leaping interception of a Teddy Bridgewater pass — and it looks like the middle linebacker job will be his to lose once the team reports to Mankato.