Second-year inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks had some shining moments as a rookie, finishing with 88 total tackles, including eight for loss. Yet he fell prey to struggles as the defense devolved and the season took a turn for a worst. After new defensive coordinator Bill Davis was hired and the shift to a 3-4 scheme became apparent, so too did the fact that Kendricks would be unleashed and have an even greater chance to fulfill his enormous potential.
Kendricks is already intimately familiar with the 3-4, as it is the defense within which he played and excelled during his college years at California. After being shifted from strongside to weakside linebacker in the Eagles' wide-nine 4-3 in 2012, the switch back to 3-4 inside linebacker was a welcomed and natural transition.
Kendricks is a uniquely athletic specimen, with a combination of speed, quickness and explosiveness that is perhaps unmatched by any other linebacker in the NFL. His pass defense is tremendous, and his range is such that Davis has already used him as a deep middle safety in some Cover 3 blitz packages. Speaking of blitzes, Kendricks' instincts, when coupled with his physical ability, make him a devastatingly dangerous rusher. He is able to burst past blockers into the backfield and either punish the quarterback – you might remember his suplex-like tackle of Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III that resulted in an intentional grounding penalty – or corral the ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage (28.5 tackles for loss his final two seasons at Cal).
Immediately upon receiving the game plan leading up to Monday night's matchup against the Washington Redskins, Kendricks knew he would be a major part of Davis' attack and was licking his chops.
"It's exciting," Kendricks said, "to know that I'm going to be freed up a little bit. Just as many times as (Davis) installs a plan for me to go (blitz), there might be a week where I don't, so we'll see."
Suffice to say that Kendricks has already left his imprint on this defense and showcased his ability with a remarkable Week 1 performance, leading the team in solo tackles with nine (10 total, a career high) and quarterback hurries with two. He also recovered the fumble outside linebacker Trent Cole forced on the defense's very first snap.
Aside from the scheme change, Kendricks feels he has made significant progress in general in just one year and is ready to emerge not only as a premier player on defense, but as a leader, too. He credits fellow inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans with helping him develop both on and off the field.
"I've come a long way," Kendricks said. "I feel like I'm still learning everyday, and it's such a blessing to have a great, great, great friend and a great player-slash-coach in DeMeco Ryans. That guy is something else, he's got it up top (mentally) and it's just a blessing. I learn everyday with the coaches that we have here."
"Mychal has really grown as a player from year one to year two," Ryans said. "His understanding of the game, understanding what's going on around him, what the other safeties and linebackers are doing around him. He's doing a better job of communicating, and he's just growing as a pro."
Kendricks is part of a young nucleus of players on defense who arrived in Philadelphia last season as members of the team's 2012 draft class. Along with first-round pick Fletcher Cox and fourth-round pick Brandon Boykin, Kendricks sees the trio as the future of the Eagles 3-4 scheme, but he understands that they must also play a vital role in the team's fortunes this season. So far, so good, as in addition to Kendricks, Cox recorded a sack and Boykin the first interception of his NFL career.
"(The Eagles) brought us here last year, so it's a big deal," Kendricks said. "It's expected of us to step up and do our jobs, and we're doing just that. We push each other, we keep each other in check, we know that we're the future and that comes with taking care of the present, so we have to do that."
Make sure to follow us on Twitter @EaglesInsider