Linebacker Watch: Mychal Kendricks

Philadelphia Eagles LB Mychal KendricksTo date, Mychal Kendricks’ transition to the pros has been about as smooth as you can ask for. The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year out of Cal was plucked by the Eagles with the 46th overall pick in April’s draft, and immediately plugged in as the starting strongside linebacker. He stood out above all others at rookie camp, and kept that positive momentum rolling into the OTA’s and eventually training camp.

He looks comfortable, and it was no different Thursday night during his first taste of NFL action.

“It’s definitely faster, but I feel good,” said Kendricks. “It felt natural. It’s definitely faster [than college] but not as fast as I originally thought it was. I definitely feel like I can play in this league.”

Kendricks tied for a team-high with five tackles against the Steelers, two of them for a loss. As detailed by Sheil here, he forced Chris Rainey out of bounds for a 2-yard loss on a toss to the right, and also shut down a screen to Jonathan Dwyer and tackled him for a two-yard loss.  There were some imperfections along the way as well but Kendricks played fast and was generally decisive, which is what you’re looking for out of a rookie at this stage.

“Mychal, man, he’s relentless,” said defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. “You saw some of the big-play ability. It’s hard for the young guys because you’re really not game-planning (for preseason games). The day before we say, ‘O.K., here’s Pittsburgh, and we’re going to do these coverages.’ Especially for young guys like that it’s tough but he came through and made big plays.”

Kendricks says the biggest adjustment is learning to use his hands more to shed blockers. He also is getting used  to the play of the front-four. The D-Line aggressively penetrates the backfield in Jim Washburn’s system, often leaving the linebackers to deal offensive linemen bent on pushing the play forward.

“They release and there are linemen in my face, but you have to be able to adapt in this game,” he said.

Kendricks has been in out as the starting nickel linebacker. He was temporarily replaced by Jamar Chaney, but Chaney has since been hobbled by a hamstring injury. That put the rookie back in the mix alongside DeMeco Ryans.

“I have to be able to switch my brain on and off to nickel packages, going back to base and then back to nickel,” he said.

Improving linebacker play against the pass is critical for the Eagles. According to Football Outsiders, Eagles linebackers ranked 29th in the league in coverage against opposing running backs in 2011. The expectation is that the unit will improve across the board, and a lot of that responsibility falls on the 5-11, 239-pound rookie from Fresno.