An Early Test

Eagles second-round pick Mychal Kendricks works with linebackers coach Mike Caldwell. At 5-foot-11, Kendricks will be facing some big New England tight ends on Monday. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Eagles second-round pick Mychal Kendricks works with linebackers coach Mike Caldwell. At 5-foot-11, Kendricks will be facing some big New England tight ends on Monday. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Posted: August 19, 2012

Within Mychal Kendricks' first hour at the Eagles' training facility in April, he was asked about his height. It's a question Kendricks has encountered before and endured since, because 5-foot-11, strong-side linebackers are uncommon in the NFL, and it is valid to wonder how he would fare, especially when covering big tight ends.

Fast forward four months, and Kendricks will have an opportunity to answer that question before a national audience - one way or the other. The Eagles play the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football, and it is the Patriots' use of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez that is often cited when discussing the evolution of the tight end in NFL offenses.

"We'll see," Kendricks said Friday, revealing a hint of a smile. "You guys tune in."

That can be interpreted as a trace of playfulness from Kendricks, whose intensity has become a hallmark in descriptions of him. Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo repeatedly insists that Kendricks is not the type of person one would want to encounter in a dark alley, which is supposed to be complimentary when describing an NFL linebacker.

What helps Kendricks is that he's exceptionally fast for someone at his position. At the NFL combine, Kendricks' 4.47-second 40-yard dash was the best among all linebackers who ran. He also topped linebackers with a 39.5-inch vertical jump, which could offset the lack of height. And he has displayed his coverage prowess both in minicamp and in training camp.

Yet the Patriots tight ends developed their reputation because many defenders - whether they're linebackers taller than Kendricks or safeties faster than Kendricks - have difficulties covering them. Plus, they've become adept at creating and exploiting mismatches. Monday's game could reveal how Kendricks performs against elite tight ends - and if the matchup will become a weekly problem for the Eagles.

"Very good challenge," Castillo said. "Mychal is very athletic, so I think he'll do well. I think more of the challenge will be schematically [and] knowing where to line up with all the different looks and all the different packages that they do a good job with."

Kendricks tried to play coy when discussing what he believes the Patriots might do, suggesting they could run heavily on Monday or try something they haven't revealed before. Eagles coach Andy Reid is approaching the second preseason game the way he annually does the third preseason game, meaning the Eagles' starters will play into the third quarter. The first-team defense - a group that includes Kendricks - will be tested more than they will be at any other point in the preseason.

The Eagles still have not finalized some of their personnel groups, especially on defense. Kendricks is the starting strong-side linebacker in the base defense, but it is unknown whether he will earn a spot in the nickel defense. And considering the Patriots' formations, the Eagles likely will play different alignments. They Eagles have two different nickel groupings, plus a dime group, so Kendricks could have a chance to play more. But he must prove dependable to stay on the field.

"We're going to keep working with that because we have some athletic linebackers, and we're trying to mix and match and see who are the best for that group," Castillo said, adding that the Patriots are a good team to test against because of the different ways they play. "Do they spread it out and do you use nickel, or do they come back in tight alignments and do you play your base?"

Kendricks' best comparison to the Patriots offense came when he was at California last season and faced Stanford, a team that prominently featured tight ends and included two of the best in the Pac-12. However, Kendricks seldom needed to cover a tight end throughout that game.

"We had a different scheme," Kendricks said. "I was run-only."

In fact, Kendricks said the area of his game that has improved the most during the last three weeks has been technique against opposing rushers. On Monday, though, there will be interest to see how he does in coverage. But Kendricks is simply enthused to play - whether it's against the Patriots' tight ends, running backs, or quarterbacks.

"This is my second NFL game," Kendricks said. "I'm excited, period."


Contact Zach Berman

at zberman@phillynews.com,

or follow on Twitter @ZBerm.

 

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