SEVERAL TIMES during the Sunday morning session of Eagles rookie camp, coaches exhorted confused, hesitant players to pick up the tempo. Mental and physical fatigue were setting in, as rookies grappled with their second day in a new offense or defense. When the practice was over and players fled the sunny practice fields for the air-conditioned shade of the locker room, defensive coordinator Juan Castillo gathered three linebackers, including second-round draft pick Mychal Kendricks.
"He was just telling us that when the energy's down, we have to be those guys to pick it back up," Kendricks said. "We're the linebackers, the quarterbacks of the defense. We've got to be that rah-rah type of player, and pick up the d-line . . . They're going hard every play. Those are some 'dawgs' in there, and they get tired . . . we have to pick it up, that's all he was saying."
Kendricks, the 2011 Pac-12 defensive player of the year, is used to responsibility. In this Eagles rookie class, he seems to be in position to have the biggest early impact, perhaps as the strongside starter. That isn't scary or overwhelming for a guy who was a 3-year starter at Cal, who played in all 51 games during his 4-year career.
"I remember when I got the call [about being conference defensive player of the year]. It didn't really hit me until I saw Andrew Luck got the offensive player of the year," Kendricks said. "I was like, 'damn, that's pretty big right there.' The award is named after Pat Tillman. You know the story behind that. It's just a great honor."
Kendricks said Sunday he set his sights on becoming a pro football player when he was 5. Lots of kids do that, but the idea always seemed very tangible to Kendricks, maybe because of his father.
In the Eagles' 1976 media guide, among the free agents vying for jobs, listed along with Vince Papale and Johnnie Walton, there's a running back from UCLA named Marv Kendricks.
"He talked about Dick Vermeil all the time. Actually, they still keep in contact," Mychal Kendricks said. "I think his career ended because of a fractured neck, or something like that. We talk about it, but we don't really get into detail."
Marv Kendricks had already been out of UCLA 4 years in 1976, had played in the Canadian Football League for the Toronto Argonauts and in the World Football League for the Portland Storm. He didn't make the Eagles; the team archives have no photos of him, there's just that little media guide blurb, which notes that he was "all-academic Pac-8." Mychal said Marv settled in Fresno and became a counselor at Fresno City College, helping steer students toward careers. Mychal is the fifth of seven children. His mother, Yvonne Thagon, is a pharmacy technician.
"There was a lot of Eagles stuff around" the Kendricks home, Mychal said. "He had this Eagles jacket - the classic Eagle, bright green silk."
Mychal was always a linebacker growing up, he said, although he chose the number of his NFL hero, Denver running back Terrell Davis, No. 30. Mychal wore that number at Cal, and his brother Eric currently wears it at UCLA.
With the Eagles, Kendricks is No. 95, a jersey that has seen hard times the last decade or so, belonging first to Jerome McDougle, then to Victor Abiamiri. Kendricks said he isn't worried. "It's the placebo effect - if you believe it, then I guess it's going to happen. But I don't believe in that stuff," he said. "It's the number they gave me."
Earlier in the weekend, Kendricks was quizzed closely about covering tight ends. He's a blocky, muscular 5-11, 239, maybe a bit chestier than the typical Eagles linebacker. Is he concerned about covering much taller TEs?
"It doesn't matter at all . . . It doesn't matter because, at the end of the day, I'm going to have to go out there and do it. If I do it, I do it. If I don't, then I'll probably get cut," Kendricks said. "Everything's going to handle itself . . . I'm going to try my hardest, I'm going to do what I can do, and hopefully, everything will take care of itself. I don't really stress about it, and I don't think you guys should, either."
First-round pick Fletcher Cox figures to be part of a rotation at defensive tackle. He might or might not start. Ditto second-round defensive end Vinny Curry, who looks explosive, albeit working against offensive line rookies, none of whom was a high draft pick. But the Eagles seem likely to start trade acquisition DeMeco Ryans in the middle, and move Jamar Chaney to the weakside. That theoretically would leave the strong side for Kendricks.
"I'm not going to sit here and say that I'm the starter, or I'm not," Kendricks said. "They haven't said anything about that, but I'm going to sure try."
It's hard to tell much about players from these workouts, conducted without pads, in shorts, with only rookies and first-year players on the field. There are a handful of guys, through the first 2 days, who have looked very athletic, at least. That group would include Kendricks, fourth-round corner-returner Brandon Boykin, Curry, and free-agent wideout Damaris Johnson, from Tulsa. Former Penn State tight end Brent Brackett, a practice squad holdover, also has had his moments. We'll know a little more when the full squad convenes May 22, and a lot more when camp starts July 22.