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How Eric Kendricks Fits Into the Chargers Defense


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The Chargers have added a major veteran piece to the middle of their defense.

And when Eric Kendricks is on his game, he's among the best middle linebackers in the league.

The Bolts added Kendricks to their roster Tuesday, bringing in a veteran presence who will benefit the team in multiple areas.

Kendricks was released by the Vikings last week in a cost-cutting move, not because his play had fallen off a cliff.

Is the 31-year-old the same player he was at, say, age 27 when he was a 2019 First-Team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler?

We'll find out soon enough.

But Kendricks still has plenty left in the tank and will surely be ultra-motivated to prove he can still be an impactful player on the Chargers defense.

"I'm always motivated," Kendricks told "It's about continuing my career and taking it to the next level.

"I'm excited to be that consistent player that I've always been," Kendricks added. "And I'm excited to put it on for the fans in LA."

Kendricks still showed flashes of his dominant self in 2022. According to Pro Football Focus, he was solid against the run — something the Chargers need to shore up defensively — ranking 15th among all defenders with 350 run coverage snaps with a grade of 81.1.

At his peak, Kendricks was among the game's best coverage linebackers, too. He tied for the league lead among linebackers with 12 pass breakups in 2019.

(If you want to see what he's like in pass coverage, look up his acrobatic interception off Justin Herbert in 2021).

Kendricks is betting on himself that he will continue to perform at a high level, and he's doing so in a familiar place.

He said Tuesday that a pairing with the Chargers happened organically.

"I didn't really know what to expect [after getting released]," Kendricks said. "It's a blessing. Obviously, I played college ball here, got a little bit of roots here. I'm excited to be back.

"I know we've got a good squad ... quarterback, things like that," Kendricks added. "It all came into play when making my decision."

The linebacker hails from Fresno and was a standout at UCLA. He was college football's top linebacker in 2014 when he won the Butkus Award, and was a second-round pick of the Vikings a few months later.

Kendricks didn't start right away in Minnesota, but he ended up leading the team in tackles as a rookie after entering the starting lineup in Week 4.

He will know a handful of faces here, too.

Chargers Special Teams Coordinator Ryan Ficken helped Kendricks develop in that phase before he blossomed into a star on defense.

And Jeff Howard, recently hired as the Chargers linebackers coach, will be Kendricks' position coach after being a defensive assistant in Minnesota for five seasons the linebacker was with the Vikings.

Kendricks' family also lives in California, and he and his wife Ally are expecting their first child — a baby boy — later this spring.

It makes perfect sense for Kendricks to want to return home.

But this move also makes plenty of sense for the Chargers, too.

Kendricks is exactly the type of player Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley routinely talks about adding to the roster. Smarts, toughness and the know-how for success in the league.

There's a reason Kendricks was a team captain in Minnesota.

Off the field, Kendricks was the 2020 Vikings Community Man of the Year and among the most well-respected voices in the locker room no matter what the topic.

If Kendricks can help improve the Bolts defense overall and bring additional leadership to the locker room, the move has the potential to be one of the top free-agent signings across the entire league.

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