Why Chip Kelly Values Mychal Kendricks

During one play Tuesday, Brent Celek motioned to the slot on the left side, and linebacker Mychal Kendricks went with him.

Celek ran a corner route downfield, towards the sideline, but Kendricks was able to stick with the tight end, and the pass went in another direction.

This is Chip Kelly’s offense. Identify versatile pieces, move them around the formation, create mismatches, and move fast.

But Kendricks has the skill set to negate that style. So it makes sense that Kelly is excited about what the second-year player can bring to the defense.

“He excels in pass coverage, but he’s physical enough to play on first and second down,” Kelly said. “He’s one of the more athletic linebackers in this league, so really excited about his future and what he can do. He can do everything we’ve asked him to do.”

Kendricks had ups and downs as a rookie. He showed he can cover, finished third on the team in tackles (88, per team stats) and had eight tackles for loss (second to only DeMeco Ryans).

On the flip side, Kendricks missed 11 tackles, tied for most among linebackers, according to Football Outsiders. And because he’s not the biggest guy (5-11, 239), he sometimes has trouble getting off of blocks.

“I think I’m a three-down backer,” Kendricks said. “I can cover. I can play the run. So the only mismatch you can really say is me being the size I am. But I think I’ve proven worthy of any situation.”

Kendricks said he didn’t review film of last year because the Eagles are moving on to a new scheme in 2013 with new coaches and new players. He played in a 3-4 in college and showed the ability to fill a variety of roles. As a junior, he got the opportunity to rush the passer and totaled seven sacks. As a senior, he was used more inside and finished with 14.5 tackles for loss.

Going forward, the Eagles’ coaching staff will work on finding the best way to utilize Kendricks’ skill set. But clearly, he’s at his best when the big guys up front can keep offensive linemen off of him and allow Kendricks to fly around and make plays.

“We can put those guys in our package where we need them for us to be successful,” said inside linebackers coach Rick Minter. “And whether that’s handling the motions, handling the blitzing, whether that’s man coverage, we can job-assign our guys to where they need to be for our team to be successful.

“And that’s why we say our scheme will ultimately be predicated off what our best 11 guys can do collectively as a group. And that’ll help dictate fronts, that’ll help dictate coverage. That’ll help dictate percentage of pressure versus percentage of not as much pressure, based on who we are.”

Kendricks called the new scheme “totally different” from what the Eagles ran last year. But the pace of practice is not completely foreign to him.

In college, before Cal played Oregon, Kendricks practiced at a similar tempo.

“Those practices that week when we were preparing were the hardest all year just because we were getting ready for fast tempo and just crazy things,” Kendricks said. “We always played really well against them for the most part.”

Kendricks’ statement is partially true. When he was a freshman, Cal beat Oregon, 26-16. And as a junior, they limited the Ducks to 13 points in a two-point loss. But the other two meetings didn’t go as well (a 43-15 loss as a senior and a 42-3 loss as a sophomore).

Now, of course, Kendricks will be playing for Kelly, and after starting his NFL career on a 4-12 team, he’s looking forward to the change.

“If it’s going to be a fresh start around here, it might as well be a fresh start with me and how I do my stuff and handle my business,” Kendricks said. “The rookie stuff’s out the window.”

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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