Eric Kendricks had plenty of butterflies Monday morning as he drove to Hoag Performance Center for the first day of the Chargers voluntary offseason program.
The Chargers new middle linebacker, who joined the Bolts last month after eight seasons in Minnesota, was the fresh face in a locker room full of players that knew each other.
"It was like I was the new kid in school," Kendricks said. "It was a little bit nerve-wracking for me.
"I've met people but didn't really know anybody on that level. Not yet. I'm looking forward to building those relationships and things like that," Kendricks later added. "I've obviously played against a lot of people. Familiarity-wise, that's why I'm here, so I can get to know all of the players and build that camaraderie."
At least Kendricks was in somewhat familiar colors (and his old college number) in a new environment. A former star at UCLA, he donned the powder blue and gold for an on-field workout where he began the acclimation process.
The California native mingled with Khalil Mack and Morgan Fox among others, going through his workout with a smile on his face.
Kendricks said he's going to take a simple approach to getting to know his new teammates.
"Just lifting, running and shooting the [breeze] on the side," Kendricks said. "Do little things like that. Not do too much, just be myself and come in here and just learn."
Kendricks was welcomed with open arms Monday by teammates and coaches.
Fox said he knew of Kendricks from afar and was fired up to be on the same team with him.
"He's awesome. We actually have a lot of mutual friends," Fox said. "[Monday] was the first time that I've met him in person, but everyone that I know that knows him speaks very highly of him, nothing but great things about him.
"It was awesome to actually meet him today, get to work with him," Fox added. "I'm excited to see what the season is going to look like with him."
Kendricks was released by the Vikings earlier this offseason after making 113 starts and racking up 900-plus tackles, earning All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors in 2019.
He said his initial conversation with Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley lasted 90 minutes as the two talked ball and what Kendricks' role would be with the Bolts.
"It was 11 o'clock at night and I got to know his personality a lot," Kendricks said. "I'm glad that I can fit into this program, into this system, but also, I don't have to do too much as I come in.
"I can get to know the guys, get to know the leaders on the team, like Khalil, and things like that and just play my role," Kendricks added. "This is my ninth year in the league. I've seen a lot. I've done a lot. Hopefully, my experiences can help everybody else around me. Like I said, I'm not pushing for that. I'm just going to come in here, be myself and play the game that I love to play."
Staley said Monday that he jumped at the chance to add Kendricks' pedigree and leadership skills to the roster.
"A lot of experience, a lot of play-making ability. He's been at the heart of one of the top defenses in the NFL his entire career," Staley said. "He's a very complete player and he's also one of the best leaders that you're going to be around. I'm excited about joining up with him. We're going to have a lot of work ahead of us."
Check out some photos of the Chargers first workout of the 2023 off-season program at Hoag Performance Center.
Staley later referenced how Kendricks' experience will translate to his scheme and affect those around him.
"I think the intangible part of that position is that you're truly connecting both places, you're connecting the front of your defense to the back of your defense. You're in the middle of everything," Staley said. "In the NFL, any time that you play a position that's in the middle – inside linebacker, safety, quarterback, center – any time that you're in the middle, you have to be a connector. That's part of your value to the football team that goes far beyond height, weight, speed.
"As good of a player as he is, the fact that he has that type of leadership capacity multiplies his impact on the team," Staley continued. "What he did in Minnesota, I got to witness firsthand because I was in the division when I was in Chicago and played him when I went to Denver and played him as a head coach here.
"Some of my best friends have been a part of coaching him," Staley added. "Watching him from afar, just the level of respect that I've had for him, not just as a player, but as a leader – Walter Payton Man of the Year, you're talking about the highest caliber that you could join up with."
Kendricks will slide right into a starting role for the Chargers, but his impact will go beyond his play on the field.
The Bolts brought him in to be a leader in the huddle, yes, but he'll also be one in the locker room and the community, too.
As soon as the butterflies wear off, expect Kendricks and his easy-going personality to fit right in back in Southern California.
"My goal is not to do too much. Not try to overextend. Just do what I've done my whole career," Kendricks said. "I feel like I came into UCLA kind of as the underdog in the same situation, not really knowing anybody. I'm just kind of taking that approach, just like when I was a rookie — put my head down and work. Do things that I'm good at and we'll go from there.
"Coming to the Chargers, especially being around a bunch of great players, it's going to bring another level to my game," Kendricks later added. "It's going to make me feel like I'm the underdog again. I'm back to the bottom of the totem pole. I have to prove myself to everybody."
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