Kendricks making an impact at Eagles camp

Posted: July 26, 2012

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - It's coming soon: pads, real hitting, competition against NFL veterans fighting for jobs and roster spots.

Mychal Kendricks, the rookie Eagles linebacker who already projects as a starter on the strong side, is looking ahead with a mix of eagerness and anxiety.

"Getting anxious, a little excited. Nerves kicking," Kendricks said Tuesday on the second day of training camp, one day before veterans report and just a handful of practices before he puts on pads for the first time in the NFL. "Whenever you're nervous, you always play better. . . . Nerves are always a good thing; it means you're alive."

Much like Casey Matthews a year ago, Kendricks may have more on his shoulders than any other Eagles rookie. Drafted in the second round, he has run with the first team since the start of offseason practices and is charged with solidifying a weak spot from 2011 and reversing the team's long losing streak when it comes to early-round linebackers. (Unlike Matthews, Kendricks has had a full offseason to prepare for the task.)

Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox is the No. 1 pick, and also has a shot at a starting job, but he's being counted on to boost an existing strength, not reverse a trend of disappointments.

Fast, athletic, and confident, Kendricks said he already has learned about the challenge of playing against professionals after a standout college career at Cal.

"Everyone here is fast and knows what they're doing," he said. "In college, I don't want to say you can take plays off, because I never did, but it's just a whole lot different. You have to go 100 percent at all times [in the NFL]. That's one thing I'm working on right now."

Coaches have given Kendricks significant responsibility, but they want the rookie to play loose.

"For Mychal, it's not to put too much on him. You don't have to do anything different than what you did in college and you'll be all right, man. Let's go," defensive coordinator Juan Castillo said.

Kendricks surely will have learning moments as training camp progresses, though.

"He's a guy who's going to put every effort into getting things perfect the first time, and it's not going to happen immediately," linebackers coach Mike Caldwell said. "In college, you've been in the system for four years, you know what you're doing, so you can just go out there and play. That's what he's going to start to evolve into now."

Kendricks has speed, explosiveness, and athleticism, all of which he showed Tuesday when he raced in on quarterback Mike Kafka, blitzing through the line of scrimmage and leaping to bat a pass incomplete.

He has a look, Castillo said, "that you don't want to see him in a dark alley. He's a linebacker, he's the way a linebacker is supposed to be."

The biggest question for Kendricks is how the 5-foot-11 linebacker will cover some of the big tight ends who populate the NFL, many much taller than 6 feet.

"If you're close enough to a receiver, a lot of quarterbacks don't throw it to him," Caldwell said, citing Kendricks' speed.

If a jump ball does go up, there are ways to break up a catch.

"You don't let them come down with it. You climb the tree, you break the branches," Caldwell said.

Kendricks soon will get to show whether he can do it - and become the playmaker long missing behind the Eagles' front four.

Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214 or Follow @JonathanTamari on Twitter.

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