In training camp, preseason and even into the regular season, rookie middle linebacker Eric Kendricks talked about needing to slow things down. He tended to take himself out of position from time to time just because he would be going too fast during a play instead of taking things how they come to him.
A big part of that was because he was still a rookie learning to play in a 4-3 defensive scheme. He played in a 3-4 in college and it took time getting used to playing in the NFL. But as he gains more experience he appears to be settling down.
“I think the more experience he gains the more comfortable he’s going to be and you can just see him continuing to improve,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “We’re just looking for guys to come in here and compete every day and just want to see his improvement every day. Not make the same mistakes, do a good job with the communication, understanding the different concepts and techniques that we’re teaching within the scheme. (Linebackers coach) Adam (Zimmer) has done a great job with getting him adjusted to all those things, so from that aspect of it we’re pleased where he is, but we know we’ve got to continue to work to get better.”
Another reason why Kendricks was playing so fast on defense, according to Edwards, was because he was thinking too much. Since he is now playing in a 4-3 defense, there is a lot more communication responsibility for the middle linebacker, knowing what is going on everywhere around him.
Kendricks admitted that toward the beginning of the season he used to only be focused on his assignment and what he was supposed to be doing, but that seems to be changing as he continues to become more comfortable.
“I’m seeing things a lot,” he said. “At first, I was locked into what I had to do and what I had to do only. Now I’m starting to see the big picture of things.”
The rookie said that he is feeling a lot more comfortable in the defense, which has caused him to play with more confidence. Even though there are times when head coach Mike Zimmer will pull him aside when he makes a mistake or one of the other linebackers has to correct him, he is starting to feel as though he belongs in the starting lineup.
Edwards has seen Kendricks becoming more confident as the season has progressed and once again attributed it to the fact that he has been gaining experience. Every snap is a learning opportunity for the rookie because it allows him to see the plays being developed in a game scenario, which is hard to simulate in practice.
“I think he’s a lot more comfortable with a lot of the concepts we’re running now,” Edwards said. “Just because he’s seen it so many times from week to week. And in these first couple of games there’s been some carryover.”
As Kendricks continues to settle into the defensive scheme that Zimmer likes to run, the game should continue to slow down for him. The rookie likes to play fast, but once he ties that speed in with knowledge of what is happening his game should continue to improve.