SCHAD: Vikings Hoping for a Defensive Leap With the “Bruising Bruins”

SCHAD: Vikings Hoping for a Defensive Leap With the “Bruising Bruins”

Written By Chris Schad

For years, the Minnesota Vikings lacked an impact linebacker on defense. It seems like for every E.J. Henderson there’s been an Erin Henderson followed by an Audie Cole with a Dontarrious Thomas thrown in somewhere.

If that’s out of order, you’ll have to excuse me because all three of those names seem to be cut from the same cloth: non-descript linebackers in a defense that got killed on a weekly basis. It’s something that Mike Zimmer realized immediately when he got to Minnesota a year ago and decided to fix that by using his first draft pick as head coach to select Anthony Barr.

Barr had the freak athleticism that you want and the upside that comes from an extremely raw player. Despite the massive learning curve that comes from playing just over two seasons on the defensive side of the ball, he showed plenty of potential in his first season with four sacks in 12 games.

Barr’s potential defensive rookie of the year season was derailed by a late season injury, but his presence at least helped the Vikings take a step in the right direction. After all, the division has been dominated in recent seasons by guys like Brian Urlacher and Clay Matthews, who have kept countless offensive personnel awake on Saturday nights during their careers.

However, Barr is only one person. If Zimmer could somehow figure out a way to clone his potential All-Pro wrecking machine, he’d probably do it. But, that stuff only exists in science fiction novels and horrible movies on the SyFy network.

Coming into this year’s draft, he knew he needed to fill the void that Henderson (E.J., that is) had left behind after destroying his leg on national television in 2009. Although he returned the following year, he wasn’t the same player, and the Vikings have had a gaping hole at middle linebacker ever since.

There were several prospects that could have fit the bill, but Zimmer had to be eying Eric Kendricks as he fell to the Vikings at 45th overall. Despite not having the measurables that NFL teams crave, he did possess a quality that most linebackers don’t have in today’s game — being capable of staying on the field for three downs.

With solid coverage skills, Kendricks is also a sideline-to-sideline wrecking ball that can cover the football field with blinding football speed (also known as the speed that’s not found in shorts and t-shirt exercises at the NFL combine). For a team that ranked 25th in rushing defense a season ago, that kind of ability will not go unnoticed by Vikings fans.

Along with Barr in the “Sam” role, the two can team up to be a pair of “Bruising Bruins” in the middle of a Vikings defense that keeps getting younger but also seems to have a higher ceiling every season. Such havoc can only help take pressure off a defensive line that regained top-10 status in sacks last season and a secondary that is continuing to improve thanks to a late surge in 2014.

Barr and Kendricks could make the Vikings’ defense a real problem for opposing teams in an offensive division like the NFC North and finally give the Vikings not one, but a pair of impact linebackers.