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Eagles' Mychal Kendricks coming into his own

When Mychal Kendricks' teammates were asked to give his No. 1 attribute, they talked about his athleticism. When defensive coordinator Bill Davis spoke of the Eagles linebacker, he focused on his versatility.

Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)Read more

When Mychal Kendricks' teammates were asked to give his No. 1 attribute, they talked about his athleticism. When defensive coordinator Bill Davis spoke of the Eagles linebacker, he focused on his versatility.

Kendricks' athleticism and versatility are tied together, and help explain the blossoming he's had in his third season. But when asked to explain his improvement, which reached its zenith Sunday against the Seahawks, Kendricks focused on his mental state, which he said has become less anxious.

"It's really calm in there now," Kendricks said Tuesday. "It's not so much nervousness, which is brought on by wanting to do good, and in order to do good you have to know yourself and do everything that is asked of you. That takes a lot of information. Your brain can only take in 55 bits of information."

More has been added to Kendricks' plate this season. He's the lone inside linebacker to play every down, including in dime personnel. And when DeMeco Ryans suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon rupture last month, Kendricks said, he assumed some of the defensive captain's leadership responsibilities.

He doesn't make the calls or set the front, although he has to process the information and could just as easily step in for Casey Matthews or Emmanuel in the "Mike" linebacker role. But Kendricks said that he has noticed his teammates increasingly looking to him for guidance, as they often did with Ryans.

"Last game, I really felt myself come full circle," Kendricks said. "It was really weird, because when things go wrong, instead of looking to a guy to pick me up, I'm the one picking up the guys around me."

After one of the many plays he made against the Seahawks - he had a team-high 16 tackles, a tackle for loss, and a forced fumble - Kendricks said his teammates got caught up in his performance.

"All my teammates on the field turned around [and said],'You're ballin', You're ballin', Mike.' And I'm like, 'Let's focus on the next play.' "

His efforts weren't enough as the Eagles fell, 24-14. Defensive end Fletcher Cox was perhaps even more impressive. But with the offense stagnant against one of the NFL's best defenses, the Eagles defense had to be perfect and was not.

They still have holes, particularly in the secondary. But Cox and Kendricks, the Eagles' first and second selections in the 2012 draft, are building blocks if the Eagles hope to move closer to being mentioned in the same breath as the Seahawks defense.

Both will be entering the fourth and final year of their rookie contracts next offseason. Both don't turn 25 until next season. Both could be in line for extensions.

"Ideally, I guess," Kendricks said about a possible extension. "I just play football. If that's what they would want, of course, that's what they're definitely getting out of us."

Kendricks is making as many plays as he did last season. He's averaging around the same number of tackles per game (9.3 this season compared with 9.1); sacks (three in nine games compared with four in 15 last season); and turnovers (three forced fumbles as opposed to three interceptions).

But the mistakes are fewer. He has cut the number of missed tackles he has had per snap nearly in half. The Eagles say he has a better understanding of how to use his considerable athleticism.

"Mike's athleticism - you don't see that very often, especially for a linebacker," Matthews said. "He can get places quick. He's got to be on his keys, but when he's on his keys he always tries to get there. Even if he's a half-second late with the read, he'll get there."

Kendricks was probably the No. 1 reason Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, despite a 26-yard touchdown run, was held nearly three yards below his rushing average (4.8 vs. 7.5). He spied the quarterback on various passing downs and jetted into the backfield on delayed rushes.

Wilson often had to move off his spot and throw the ball away. In the second quarter, Kendricks shot so quickly up the middle (he covered more than 15 yards in just under two seconds), that the speedy and elusive Wilson couldn't escape his grasp and intentionally grounded the football.

"His pass rush has really I think grown in the last year," Davis said. "OK, now we're going to blitz him. Well he's a pretty good matchup on a back. The total package of Mychal Kendricks is why you can use him in spies or coverage or blitz or in zone. He's a very well-rounded athlete."

Kendricks likes to be moving, in that he sometimes can't sit still when he should in an underneath zone coverage. Ryans, despite his physical limitations, has the right temperament for those coverages. Kendricks is improving, but he thrives as an aggressor and when in space.

He missed four games with a calf strain earlier in the season, which may have hindered any Pro Bowl hopes he had. But Kendricks' third-year development hasn't gone unnoticed.

"I know how good I am," Kendricks said. "I hope the people around me know how good I am, too, and that's all that really matters. I don't really care about what's outside of this facility, to be honest."