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Mychal Kendricks ranked third on the Eagles in tackles in 2012 with 88, behind only DeMeco Ryans (148) and Kurt Coleman (105). (USA Today Images)
There were glimpses last year. Little snippets. Cameos. Flashes.
You could tell Mychal Kendricks had all the tools to become a productive NFL linebacker, but he just never put it all together.
Kendricks had a tough rookie year, and it mirrored the Eagles’ season. Promising start, disappointing finish.
You have to give him credit for battling from start to finish while chaos reigned around him –- his defensive coordinator got fired in the middle of the year, he changed positions a few weeks after that, his team lost 11 of its last 12 games.
But through it all, you could tell there was something there. It just wasn’t quite coming together.
Now Kendricks is a year older, a year wiser, a year more experienced. Things have calmed down around him. Billy Davis – his third defensive coordinator in two years – has installed a 3-4 defense that suits Kendricks’ skill set. Head coach Chip Kelly, who coached against Kendricks in the Pac 12, seems enamored by Kendricks’ potential.
Other than a shaky opener against the Patriots, when he was a little too revved up, Kendricks has been very good in training camp and during the preseason, and like the other members of the Class of 2012 Draft –- Fletcher Cox, Bryce Brown, Brandon Boykin, Vinny Curry, even Nick Foles -– the Eagles are expecting a big jump from Year 1 to Year 2.
“I feel comfortable as far as our defense and the schemes and the gameplan that we put in,” Kendricks said. “I’m comfortable. I feel like there’s always room for improvement, I feel like I’m not where I want to be, but I feel like I’m doing OK.”
It’s easy to tell the difference in Kendricks. He just looks different. On the field and off.
Kendricks was a young rookie last year, starting his career with the Eagles just a few months after he turned 21. He’s still only 22, but he just seems more settled this fall, more mature, more comfortable.
“I just tell him I see him growing as a professional, see him handle his business on the field and off the field,” said DeMeco Ryans, one of the senior members of the Eagles, now entering his ninth season.
“He’s communicating more, he’s understanding the game better, he’s seeing things a lot better. I’m just proud of the way he’s grown from Year 1 to now. I can just see that maturity in him, and the knowledge in his game is just picking up.
“I’m really proud of the steps that he’s made. The kid has unbelievable talent, and I just want to see him reach his full potential. The sky’s the limit for him because he has ability that a lot of people don’t have. He’s just gifted. Just God-given talent, and I want to see him able to maximize it.”
As a pure 3-4 outside linebacker, Kendricks seems equally comfortable dropping back into coverage and blitzing the quarterback.
He’s even athletic enough to line up at free safety, which he did Saturday night in Jacksonville, coming free on a safety blitz.
“It’s great,” Kendricks said. “I have fun doing it. For them to want me to go forward and for them to want me to go backwards and for the other team to not know what I’m going to do, is pretty cool.
“The fact that they want me coming forward, they want me going back, I can go inside, I can go outside, it’s pretty fun. It allows me to make more plays.”
The Eagles’ defense is a work in progress. There’s a new scheme up front, new coaches, a bunch of new linebackers and linemen, new cornerbacks.
And Kendricks looks like a new guy, too. Even his demeanor in interviews is different.
Where a year ago, he sat in his locker and spoke in almost a whisper, now he stands tall and speaks with confidence.
He’s not a kid anymore, and he’s not acting like one.
“He’s got a little more confidence, a little more swagger to him, and it’s showing on the field,” Ryans said. “He’s confident in what he’s doing and that allows him to let his athleticism come out.
“He’s already fast, so now he’s not slowed down by trying to process and think about what he has to do. He already knows it, so he’s able to trigger, process quick and make plays faster on the field.”
Kendricks ranked third on the team in tackles last year with 88, behind only Ryans (148) and Kurt Coleman (105).
But the big plays he hoped for never came. He did knock down 11 passes, but he had just one sack and no interceptions, fumble recoveries or forced fumbles in 15 starts.
Nobody knows what the future holds, but Kendricks certainly has the potential to become the Eagles’ first legit linebacker since Jeremiah Trotter. The Eagles certainly need big plays from him, they need consistency vs. the run from him, they need a lot more than they got last year from him.
“There’s not a whole lot of time to be thinking about last year, I’m more of a thinking-about-the-present type of guy,” Kendricks said.
“Last year, I was a rookie. This year, there are no excuses. A lot’s expected and I have to meet those expectations.”