Castillo on Kendricks: 'Man, he's relentless'
BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Since the Eagles took him with their first of two second round picks of April’s NFL draft, the belief was that Mychal Kendricks would have a chance to start and bolster a weak linebacking corps that had a difficult time meshing with the wide nine last season.
In Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Steelers, the 2011 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year had his first chance to prove he belonged on the first team.
“I think I did alright,” Kendricks said. “I know I need to get better. It was my first game — I didn’t really know what to expect. But now that I have one underneath my belt, I can kind of base everything off of that one and go from there.
Kendricks managed to tie lineman and fellow rookie Vinny Curry for the team lead in tackles with five, four of which were solo and two of which went for a loss.
After Sunday morning’s walk-through, defensive coordinator Juan Castillo gushed about Kendricks.
“Mychal, man, he’s relentless,” Castillo said. “You saw some of his big-play ability. It’s hard for the young guys because we’re really not game planning — the day before we say, ‘OK, here’s Pittsburgh and here’s what we’re gonna do, we’re just gonna do these coverages.’
“So especially for young guys like that it’s tough, but he came through and he made some big plays, which is what he’s capable of doing.”
Early in training camp, Castillo has been using the speedy Kendricks, who ran a 4.47-second 40-yard dash in the combine, in nickel packages, but he wouldn’t declare that he’s penciled him in as the first-team nickel linebacker just yet.
“There’s still some competition going on,” Castillo said. “There’s a lot of good athletes and we have a lot of good linebackers, so what we’re trying to do is we’re just trying to mix and match and see what’s the best combination.”
As would be expected, the biggest difference between base defense to the nickel, Kendricks said, is putting pass defense first. But he still has to be ready for the run, just in case – as was seen on Thursday night, the Steelers opted to run on several third-and-longs and were able to convert.
As a rookie, learning one defensive package can be daunting. Kendricks could be on the first team for two.
“I’m at another position too, so I have to know two positions at the same time,” he said. “I have to be able to switch in on and off to nickel packages — going back to base, going back to nickel.”
And then there’s the wide nine. Having the front four so spread out can bother some linebackers since it makes stopping the run that much more difficult, but it doesn’t faze Kendricks.
“They’re aggressive,” he said. “They’re up the field and get to the quarterback — makes my job a lot easier when you have such a good line in front of you like that.”