Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks to play a key role on defense

Posted: August 06, 2013

Asked to name his football favorites, Mychal Kendricks aimed high.

"I like to hit quarterbacks," the Eagles inside linebacker said, "and I like to intercept balls and take them for six."

Kendricks didn't do much of either last year as a rookie. The fault was hardly his alone.

The Eagles seemed to play away from his skill set in 2012. They barely pass rushed the speedy linebacker, and for most of the season, they had the undersized Kendricks line up on the strong side opposite the tight end.

The plan for this season, or at least in the general terms the Eagles have sketched out, is to utilize Kendricks' freakish athleticism. He did run one of the fastest 40-yard dashes for a linebacker (4.47 seconds) in NFL combine history.

"I did a lot of film work on him coming out of the draft and Mychal can do it all," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "He's got great movement, coverage skills. He's got the ability to rush. He's a solid tackler and run defender. I'm very excited about where we can go with Mychal and do different things with him."

Blitzing Kendricks more frequently would seem to be one of those things. Last season, the Eagles rushed him on only 37 of 518 pass plays (7.1 percent). Of the 25 4-3 outside linebackers that ProFootballFocus.com compiled pass-rush statistics for in 2012, Kendricks rushed the second to least amount of times.

He recorded just one sack and one quarterback hit. But that was partly by design because the wide nine 4-3 was predicated on the front four generating most of the pressure up front. The Eagles blitzed less than any other team last season.

And when they did it was usually DeMeco Ryans rather than Kendricks because they needed the 5-foot-11, 240-pound linebacker to drop and cover. The Eagles will face the same conundrum this season with both set to play inside.

"Mychal Kendricks' skill set is great to blitz, but Mychal Kendricks' skill set is great to cover," coach Chip Kelly said. "So I would argue he may be our best cover linebacker. So you're kind of caught in that."

Still, getting after quarterbacks is something Kendricks did effectively and Kelly saw up close in college. He recorded 13 1/2 sacks at California, 8 1/2 during his junior year. He played as an outside linebacker in the Bears' 3-4 that season, but still notched three sacks when he moved inside as a senior.

Even if the Eagles don't blitz Kendricks as a fifth or sixth pass rusher, he should naturally have more opportunities to hit quarterbacks with the switch to a 3-4 scheme or some variation of it.

One of the Eagles' primary motives for moving to an odd-man front is to confuse opposing offenses on who will be the fourth rusher. Most of the time, it'll be an outside linebacker. But sometimes it will be Kendricks or Ryans. And sometime they'll just line up over the "A" gap to give the illusion of pressure.

"I have no idea what they plan on doing," Kendricks said. "I know they got some good stuff going in."

Kendricks dropped half the time last season, but he failed to record an interception. He had four in college and snagged a beauty in practice on Sunday when he stretched out and picked off Nick Foles.

"You look at the play he made, the dive and catch on the interception," Kelly said, "I'm not sure we have another linebacker with that skill set."

While Kendricks had his issues against tree-sized tight ends last season, he seemed to struggle more with scheme as the season wore on and his body adapted to the longer season. He missed a team-high 13 tackles. He played better down the stretch when he was switched to the weakside.

Kendricks was limited in ways by the Eagles defense, but his numbers and contributions paled in comparison to the three similarly-skilled linebackers taken after him in the second round of the draft.

Seattle's Bobby Wagner had two sacks and three interceptions, Tennessee's Zach Brown recorded 51/2 sacks and three interceptions, and Tampa Bay's Lavonte David led the Buccaneers in tackles and finished with two sacks and an interception.

Kendricks said he feels more comfortable this training camp . He said that Davis is trying to find a "happy medium" between his pass rush and cover skills. He just couldn't provide any clues.

"I can't give that away," Kendricks said. "A true master never gives away his plan and I can't do that."

Click here for complete coverage of Philadelphia Eagles training camp.


Contact Jeff McLane at jmclane@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.

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