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By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — It’s a special awareness that some players have on a football field. It’s that special sense a quarterback gets when they drop back into the pocket, and feel the breath of defenders surrounding them. It’s the awareness a linebacker has when he drops back into coverage, where he senses a tight end’s footsteps trying to sneak behind him.
Some players take time to develop that kin-esthetic awareness. For others, it comes naturally, like it does for Eagles’ rookie linebacker Mychal Kendricks.
Kendricks has made a seamless transition from playing at California to the NFL, showing great speed and the ability to be at the right place at the right time. Entering the Eagles’ sixth game, hosting the Detroit Lions this Sunday, the 5-foot-11, 239-pound Kendricks is fourth on the Eagles in tackles with 23, has one tackle for a loss, and has defended three passes.
Kendricks’ emergence, along with middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, has made what was once an uncertain area of the field for the Eagles a team strength.
What makes Kendricks unique is that, despite the accolades he’s already received in just six games as a pro, is that he’s not content. After a practice last week, Kendricks couldn’t wait to get out of his walk-through gear to hit the weight room.
It’s his penchant for wiping away all the peripheral trappings that’s made his move as an NFL starter a smooth one.
“I don’t really read into a lot of things, because I don’t look up my name on Google, or look at my stats and see what I’ve done,” Kendricks said. “The biggest adjustment is staying on top of everything and dealing with the linemen, because they’re very athletic at this level. The only stats that matter to me are wins and losses.
“When I got back home, I couldn’t sleep [after losing to Pittsburgh]. I tossed and turned all night. You go over in your head what you missed, the little things are the things we need to work on. You replay the game in your head. And for anyone who has a real passion for football, at this level, it’s the littlest things that can hurt you.”
So Kendricks throttles through. He’s been very instinctive since he’s walked on a football field. Again, it’s an ability some players have immediately and some gain through time. It’s obviously something the Eagles saw when they drafted Kendricks in the second round, the 46th overall, after being selected as the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year (recording 106 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions).
“There’s work that goes into it,” Kendricks said. “I think what helped me adjust to this level was all the reps they gave me in the minicamps and OTAs. That helped me adjust. Anything you do over and over, you learn. I also have some great vets around me who’ve helped me pick up things. I think my biggest enjoyment [in the NFL] is blitzing, I can’t lie.”
Kendricks had a sound game against Pittsburgh, making three solo tackles and assisting on two others. But it’s a few missed tackles that got away, like sliding off of Steeler running back Rashard Mendenhall 13-yard, second-quarter touchdown run.
Kendricks had him lined up and missed.
“There were a lot of things I learned from the Steelers’ game,” Kendricks admitted. “One of them was I have to run through and not stop your feet. I’m not always right, even though it might look like I am sometimes, believe me, I’m not always right. I have a lot of people helping me. It’s not like the Waterboy, I’m not just going out there playing ball. I definitely know what I’m doing. But I’m not content. There is always improvement to be made.”
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.