MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Vikings are in the middle of training camp at TCO Performance Center in Eagan, and they’re now in game week mode as they get ready for Sunday’s preseason opener at the Las Vegas Raiders.
One of the top storylines entering camp was revamping a defense that was near the bottom of the NFL the last two seasons. They’re switching from a 4-3 base to a 3-4, led by veteran Eric Kendricks at middle linebacker. But he’s got a new teammate right next to him. Long-time friend Anthony Barr is gone and now with the Dallas Cowboys. The Vikings signed Jordan Hicks in the offseason to fill that spot.
Hicks and Kendricks have bonded quickly through the offseason and into training camp.
"It’s special because you don’t always get that opportunity to play next to somebody who sees things the way you do, thinks the way you do and has played football at such a high level for that long," Hicks said Wednesday. "It’s been great, part of the reason I came here was for that opportunity to play next to EK."
Kendricks has had at least 100 tackles in each of the past six seasons, including a team-high 143 stops and five sacks last season. Hicks comes to the Vikings after 116 tackles and four sacks with the Arizona Cardinals last season. He has 89 career starts, and at least 116 stops in each of the last three seasons. He had a career-high 150 tackles in 2019.
Now, Hicks and Kendricks are teammates in the middle of a revamped Vikings’ defense.
"To have Jordan Hicks come in here and fit in, and have Eric feel comfortable, it’s special. And those two guys playing together, right now how they play off each other, I haven’t been around much better," defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said.
EXCITEMENT BUILDING FOR FIRST PRESEASON GAME
The Vikings had a competitive and intense practice on Wednesday as their first preseason game Sunday gets closer. Here are a few highlights from the day:
- Kellen Mond hit Trishton Jackson on a deep shot in a team situation, with Jackson making a leaping, athletic catch high-pointing the ball over two defenders
- Kirk Cousins spent much of the afternoon connecting with Justin Jefferson on several passes
- Fresh off speaking with reporters before practice, Jordan Hicks intercepted a Kirk Cousins pass over the middle
- On the next play, Harrison Smith came on a safety blitz and got what would’ve been a sack on Cousins in a live game
- Cousins hit Adam Thielen on at least two deep passes, albeit against the second-team defense
- Cousins had a deep pass intended for Jefferson intercepted by Cam Bynum in a team situation
- KJ Osborn had a good day in individual drills, beating Cam Dantzler on a corner route for a touchdown with Cam Dantzler in tight coverage
- Rookie Ed Ingram got in the mix with the first-team offensive line Wednesday, splitting reps at right guard with Jesse Davis
- Lewis Cine was back at practice on Wednesday and participated after missing Monday night's workout at TCO Stadium with what the team called an excused absence.
Sunday’s first preseason game marks the debuts for the Vikings’ 10 draft picks, and several others trying to make an impression in training camp. Some, like Ingram, are trying to fight for a starting job.
"It’s exciting, I’m just excited. I want to be locked in for the game," Ingram said. "I was always expecting to just work my butt off to see if I can try to get a starting spot. All I plan on doing is just keep working hard, that’s all I can control at this point, just keep doing what I can do."
Osborn appears to be the front-runner for the No. 3 receiver job behind Jefferson and Thielen. He said after practice the message to the younger players for Sunday is to embrace every opportunity they get.
"Have fun, it’s football. At the end of the day, we’ve been playing this game since we were kids. Enjoy it, but go out there and keep stacking," Osborn said. "Be confident in what you trained and what you did in the offseason, the biggest thing is confidence in knowing that you’re here and you belong here. Take advantage of your opportunities, you never know when it’s going to come. You may only get one chance, so you’ve got to make that rep perfect."
The Vikings will practice Thursday and Friday before opening the preseason on Sunday at Las Vegas.