Andrew Sendejo’s frenetic style is a hit with Eagles coaches, despite the injury to Avonte Maddox
As the NFL wrestles with how to make the game safer, an Eagles safety seems unconcerned about football's toll.
The “Make Football Violent Again” baseball-style cap that Andrew Sendejo brought with him from Minnesota was not visible at his locker stall on Wednesday, but Sendejo was.
“I hope he recovers fast,” Sendejo said of teammate Avonte Maddox, who left Lambeau Field on a stretcher last Thursday night, after Sendejo’s helmet collided with Maddox’s jaw. Maddox was tackling Packers receiver Robert Tonyan when Sendejo flew in from the opposite side, dumped Tonyan, and blasted Maddox.
“There’s plays that happen like that. You just hope that they don’t end up with the result like that,” Sendejo said. “But sometimes you can’t really do anything about a bang-bang play.”
On the Fox broadcast, as Maddox was stabilized and loaded onto a stretcher, Sendejo paced back and forth behind a line of teammates facing Maddox and the medical personnel attending him. After Maddox was wheeled away, Sendejo popped in his mouthpiece, buckled his chinstrap, and directed his attention to the opponent.
“That’s, like, part of the game. He’d obviously want us to focus up for the rest of the game, to win the game,” Sendejo said. “You gotta lock in for the rest of the game.”
The Eagles, facing a Packers first-and-goal from their 7, won the game two plays later, when Maddox-replacement Craig James deflected an Aaron Rodgers pass to Nigel Bradham.
After a few more questions Wednesday about the hit, Sendejo asked whether anyone wanted to talk about Sunday’s opponent, the New York Jets. His terse replies didn’t betray a lot of remorse.
“Oh yeah,” fellow Eagles safety Rodney McLeod said, when asked whether he thought Sendejo felt bad about Maddox’s plight. Maddox remains in the concussion protocol and was seen wearing a neck brace Wednesday. “Obviously, in that situation, he’s trying to deliver a blow on a receiver. The last thing you want to do is see one of your own go down. I know that did upset him.”
McLeod said Sendejo surprised Maddox when the team reconvened Monday after having the weekend off.
“He made it up in a big way to Avonte – he left him with a few gifts in his locker,” McLeod said.
Sendejo, 32, signed a one-year contract with the Eagles in March, after eight seasons with the Vikings. Undrafted out of Rice, he entered the NFL in 2010 with Dallas, after playing briefly for the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the United Football League. Intensity and hitting are what he has to offer.
Some Eagles fans formed a negative view of Sendejo from the Vikings’ 38-7 loss to the Eagles in the NFC championship game before Super Bowl LII. LeGarrette Blount running through Sendejo en route to an 11-yard touchdown was an indelible image from that day.
In his four games as an Eagle, Sendejo has sometimes seemed a step or two behind in coverage, as was the case on Jimmy Graham’s touchdown catch last week. Pro Football Focus has Sendejo being targeted eight times in four games, with six catches against and a 149 opposing passer rating. But his coaches have made it clear they view the self-made veteran differently.
“Andrew Sendejo plays with his hair on fire. He’s full speed all the time,” secondary coach Cory Undlin said this week, when asked about the Sendejo-Maddox collision. “He’s a good player, and it’s part of the game. There’s nothing he can do different. There’s not a guy that feels worse than he does right now.”
Undlin spoke of bringing up opposition plays to Sendejo, only to have Sendejo acknowledge having seen them, and then mention other plays that Undlin hadn’t seen.
“He’s one of the smarter guys I’ve been around,” Undlin said. “He understands the game. The guy studies. He is a film freak.”
Sendejo was fined $53,482 last season for his hit on Green Bay’s Davante Adams, his third fine in 15 games. He was suspended one game in 2017 for a hit on Ravens receiver Mike Wallace.
Last season, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune asked safety Harrison Smith whether he worried about getting blown up by his partner in the Vikings’ secondary.
“Friendly fire is actually something you have to look out for. I’ve been friendly-fired by ’Dejo a bunch. That’s his game,” Smith said. “He’s a great player. He’s coming in 100 mph and looking to hit something. He plays violent within the rules. Or tries to. I just have to keep my head on a swivel with that guy.”
Given the way Eagles safeties coach Tim Hauck approached football as a player, it’s no shock that he is a Sendejo fan. Hauck was asked what he might say to Sendejo in the wake of Maddox’s injury.
“You say that like the way he plays is a negative. And the way Andrew plays is all positive. Things happen,” Hauck said. “Avonte slides inside at the very last second, Andrew’s already throwing to make the tackle. That’s part of football. ... I love the way he plays. He’s a physical guy who plays fast, makes a lot of plays, he’s very active. That’s what makes him a good player, and that’s why he’s played a long time.”
Last year, Hauck was asked about concussions and degenerative brain disease (CTE), things that weren’t part of the equation when Hauck was launching his undersized frame at bigger NFL opponents as a safety from 1990 to 2002. Hauck said he worries about brain disease and isn’t sure he would have played the same way if he had known then what he knows now.
Sendejo does know about CTE, and he has missed time with a concussion. But, he was not interested in discussing football’s dangers.
“I don’t really live in a world of hypotheticals, I just live in the now,” Sendejo said. “Who knows what’s going to happen in the future?
“I follow the rules. You follow the rules the best you can. Sometimes bang-bang plays are unavoidable. Everything happens so fast.”
McLeod was asked how Maddox is doing.
“He’s doing good. Still smiling, man. Can barely look left or right, right now, with his brace he’s got on. … Still in the meetings,” McLeod said. “Hasn’t missed a beat. … We can’t wait to get him back out there.”