Last year? Mychal Kendricks doesn’t think about it. He can’t even find the right words to describe it.
“Last year, I’m not even worried about it, honestly,” the second-year Eagles linebacker said “Last year was last year. My mindset is, I don’t even want to go back there. It can’t get much worse, let’s put it that way.”
To hear Kendricks describe it, you’d think the 2012 second-round pick fell flat on his face last year or never made it off the bench. In reality, he started the first 15 games before a concussion sidelined him for the season finale.
The former Cal star collected eight total tackles for a loss, most by an Eagles rookie since the team started tracking the statistic in 1997, and finished third on the defense with 88 overall tackles. He accomplished this while miscast for most of the season as a strong-side linebacker instead of weak side, where he played in college.
But anyone who watched the Eagles last year knows that no member of the defense should feel encouraged by his play, regardless of what the stats say.
Kendricks headed into the offseason with one objective: “To become a better all-around better player,” he said. On his checklist for Year 2 is understanding his assignments, an offense’s tendencies and slowing down the game to rely on his natural athleticism.
With another round of spring camps under his belt, and with an entirely new defense that caters to his strengths, Kendricks has noticed the difference.
“It’s already easier,” he said. “It’s crazy, like, knowing the formations and knowing the count without even having to look. Seeing the count when they come out of the huddle, instead of them lining up and me having to count when they break, just being able to count before they get lined up.
“It’s just everything slows down the second year. I can’t explain it. It’s crazy. So far everything is going good and my primary objective is just becoming a better player. Just to be a better player, not be complacent, have more tackles, have more assists, more everything.”
Now positioned on the inside in a hybrid scheme that will feature some 3-4 looks, Kendricks said he’s in great position to be a sideline-to-sideline playmaker and capitalize on the top-end speed that made him a high draft pick despite his 6-foot frame.
The former regime believed Kendricks had the speed to cover tight ends, so the linebacker’s career began on the strong side. But he struggled at times when matched against tight ends that were five or six inches taller than he is. As the season went on, Kendricks also seemed to run out of gas against the run, which is common for rookies.
Earlier this spring, coach Chip Kelly made it clear that he still sees Kendricks as the complete package.
“I think Mychal's an athletic, real physical linebacker, but I think his biggest attribute is his athleticism,” Kelly said. “He's a three-down linebacker. He doesn't have to come off the field on third down.
“He excels in pass coverage, but he's physical enough to play on first and second down. He's one of the more athletic linebackers in this league, so [I’m] really excited about his future and what he can do. He can do everything we've asked him to do.”
Opportunities for Kendricks to rush the passer last season were limited, but he sacked Tony Romo on Nov. 11, a game in which he also racked up eight tackles, two for a loss.
Careful to avoid spilling the beans about new coordinator Billy Davis’ blueprint for the defense, Kendricks dodged questions about his pass-rush potential in the new scheme. But he didn’t mask his interest in emerging into a complete playmaker.
“You have to be a playmaker if you’re gonna be a starter on this defense,” he said. “No matter what position it is, you gotta make plays.”