During Sunday’s 27-22 loss to Washington, linebacker Mychal Kendricks took it upon himself to practice long snapping on the sideline.
Long snapper Jon Dorenbos and his backup Brent Celek were out of the game and third-stringer Trey Burton was on the field with the offense. Kendricks said no one told him to snap footballs on Sunday, but the veteran — who decided to take up the craft this season — grabbed a football and began to heave it through his legs. It was a bizarre scene.
“I just did it. I just did it,” he said. “I’m ready for whatever, man. S--. I’m not playing much anyway, ya feel me?”
That is true. Kendricks isn’t playing much anyway.
The former second-round pick has played in every game this season, but he's been on the field for just 29 percent of the defense’s snaps after playing just eight snaps against Washington.
While Kendricks is still technically a starter in the Eagles’ base defense, Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham stay on the field when the Eagles go to nickel and Kendricks comes off. With how much teams in the modern era of the NFL pass, Kendricks has seen his playing time dwindle this season.
“I just do what I’m told, bro,” he said after Sunday’s loss. “The only time I play is when they’re in 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends), 21 personnel (two RBs, one TE), 22 (two RBs, two TES), big personnel. But this is the NFL and this is a passing league. They like to go 11 personnel (three receivers).”
For a linebacker who signed a four-year extension worth $29 million, the Eagles aren’t getting a lot of use out of Kendricks right now, which isn’t to say he's played poorly when he’s been on the field. Still, Kendricks’ salary cap hit of $4.6 million this year jumps to $6.6 million next season.
That's a lot for a guy who doesn't play a lot.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said Kendricks brings “energy,” but cited situations and health at linebacker as the reasons Kendricks doesn’t play much.
“He’s obviously in our goal line and he’s in our short yardage and in our base package,” Schwartz said. “And we have a third-down package that he’s in; it’s something that we don’t use very much, we use it one or two times per game, this last game we didn’t use it at all. Again, it falls a little bit to the way the offense wants to play. Sometimes you run out of snaps. But it has nothing to do with him. He’s been productive in his role. He’s played good, consistent football for us. I think that it’s sort of the way it’s gone. We’ve also stayed really healthy at linebacker.”
Kendricks has handled himself well this season despite the frustration of not playing. He’s been frustrated since the start of the season, when it became obvious he was a part-time player.
This comes just a year after Kendricks was in a linebacker rotation in Billy Davis’ 3-4 scheme that he thought never let him get into a rhythm. He was forced to split snaps with Jordan Hicks and Kiko Alonso. But in 2015, Kendricks actually ended up playing 52 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps, well above the 29 percent mark he’s hitting this year.
One of Kendricks’ strengths throughout his career has been his ability to rush the passer. The problem with that is Schwartz’s whole defensive scheme is based around the idea of the front four getting pressure on the quarterback without blitzing.
Kendricks, who had 12 career sacks in his first four years and three last season, has rushed the passer just seven times in 2016, according to ProFootballFocus.
“Yeah, he does rush well,” Schwartz said. “He is a good blitzer. A lot of it has to do with the times he’s in there. When he was in there, when they were in their two-tight end package, a lot of that is max protection. You blitz another guy in max protection, you’re going to isolate your corners a little bit more. Every game’s a little bit different with him. But he is a good blitzer and when we’ve been able to get that and complete the coverage behind him, it’s been affective there. But he doesn’t stand alone. He can have a great pass rush, but if our matchup’s bad outside or we don’t cover the guy long enough, it doesn’t make a difference.”
The Eagles took Kendricks in the second round of the 2012 draft. Since then, he’s seen the playoffs just once — in 2013.
Barring an incredible series of football miracles, 2016 will be his fourth season in five missing the playoffs.
“I’m tired of this s---,” Kendricks said. “Any team’s goal should be to make it to the playoffs, so when you don’t in four years, it’s frustrating. It’s even more frustrating when I contribute as much as I can, but it’s just frustrating.”