Mychal Kendricks sees it this way: He eased his way back from injury and played against Carolina, a game he was "not so proud of," had a bye week, and played "fairly well" on Sunday night at Dallas. It's time now, he said, to get his dominating game on.
"We have a second half of the season to go and I'm ready. We're all ready," Kendricks said. "We have some slack to pick up."
The reason there is slack is the pectoral injury suffered by rookie Jordan Hicks who, as Kendricks says and everyone agrees, "was killing it" in his first eight games. Hicks, who figured when he was drafted in May that his first NFL season would be one to learn the ropes and ease his way into the NFL life, instead was thrust into the starting lineup when Kendricks suffered a hamstring injury, Kiko Alonso hurt his knee and DeMeco Ryans went out with a groin injury.
Suddenly, Hicks had to grow up in a hurry. He responded brilliantly, playing with a veteran's poise and a standout's anticipation and attention to detail. Hicks suffered his injury late in Sunday's game, after he had recorded 6 total tackles and, of course, an interception and 67-yard return for a touchdown to help beat the Cowboys.
"It's a big hit," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "You know, it's a shame that it happened, but as soon as I saw the nature of the injury, you've seen enough of them, been around enough, especially having a background in linebacker coaching, I kind of had an idea that's what happened. Like we talked about last week, Jordan did a great job of bringing himself into the conversation of [being] a main rotation guy, through just the circumstance of injuries that presented him an opportunity. It's a shame that he only made it halfway through the season, but in the NFL, it's a bad part of what we deal with.
"Jordan will get everything fixed and then we'll move on, and we're back to the guys that we originally started with, and they go day-to-day. It's not something – obviously, it's a shame for Jordan because he really was coming along strong. I think he would have been a Rookie of the Year candidate without question."
So now the veterans have to make up some production with the kid out. The NFL can be crazy sometimes.
"I feel bad for him, given the fact that he was having a great year," Kendricks said. "But this is the nature of the game and the sooner that you understand that, the better you'll be. It's just something you can't control. We've all been there."
No question about that. The inside linebacker position was ravaged by injuries last season when Ryans missed half the year with a torn Achilles tendon and Kendricks missed all of four games and a large chunk of a fifth game because of a hamstring injury. Combined with the loss of Najee Goode, who suffered a torn pectoral injury in the opening game against Jacksonville and was placed on season-ending Injured Reserve, the inside linebacker depth was a primary area to deepen in the offseason.
So the Eagles did just that. They traded for Alonso in the deal that sent running back LeSean McCoy to Buffalo. They used a third-round draft pick on Hicks, from Texas. Ryans rehabbed his Achilles and was ready for the start of the regular season after having a year tacked on to his contract. Kendricks had contract extended in a sweet deal.
Then the injuries started piling up. Alonso hurt his knee and Kendricks strained a hamstring in the first Dallas game, prompting Hicks to take a larger role. He responded beautifully and quickly moved his way into the conversation about NFL Rookie Defensive Player of the Year. Goode, cut as the team reduced its roster to 53 players at the start of the season, was re-signed and immediately helped the special teams.
And the Eagles got by, largely because Hicks had an outstanding first half of his first season.
It's time now to pay the kid back, if you will.
"You have to go to the next man," Kendricks said. "That's just the way it is. There is no other choice."
That's the truth. Kendricks needs to be a complete linebacker. Ryans has to be durable for the remainder of the season. Alonso, who played 29 snaps against Dallas in his first action since Week 2, has a large responsibility to be a three-down linebacker, but he's still not ready to play a full game of snaps, Davis said.
How will the Eagles line up on Sunday when Miami comes to town? Kendricks is healthy. Ryans is, Davis said, "day to day." Alonso continues making progress. Goode is ready to go. Emmanuel Acho, signed on Monday, knows the scheme and stayed in shape the last two months and has been in this in-a-pinch position before.
It's not the ideal situation, but the Eagles are used to dealing with injuries at inside linebacker. They'll move on without Hicks as the veterans band together down the stretch of a playoff run.