Is Kendricks Meant For SAM?

Posted: August 19th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 25 Comments »

Brian Solomon sent me over a GCobb column the other day to read and comment on.  Cobb is of the opinion that the Eagles are making a mistake by playing Mychal Kendricks at SAM.  He thinks Kendricks is a more natural fit at WIL, because of his potential to be a playmaker.  He then follows up that the Eagles next year should go get a 6-3 guy with long arms to handle the SAM.  In a way, that final comment reveals some bias…that he’s stuck on Kendricks being too small for SAM.

I got a lot of questions about Kendricks prior to the draft.  I had him pegged as the #3 ILB in the draft.  Eagles fans wanted to know if he could play SAM for us.  At 5-11?  I said no.  Wasn’t going to happen.  As you now know, I was…wrong (the horror, the horror).

I didn’t question whether Kendricks could play SAM.  I focused on the 5-11 part.  After the pick, I went back and did some research.  I found some precedent:

Back to the height issue for a minute. There is some precedent. Jeff Gooch was the SAM linebacker for Tampa Bay in 1997 and 1998. The 1998 defense was top five in fewest yards and points allowed. The 5-11 Gooch had a sack and four forced fumbles. The Bucs ran a different scheme than the Eagles, but the point is that you can have a guy without ideal height and still get good play from him and the overall defense. Gooch wasn’t nearly as gifted as Kendricks. Back in 1997, the Eagles signed Darrin Smith away from Dallas to come be the left linebacker (the SAM by another name). Smith was just 6-0. He played part of a year before getting hurt. He left in 1998 to go to Seattle and play SAM for them. His position coach out there was some guy named Jim Johnson. Smith had five sacks and three interceptions for Seattle that year.

Kendricks can be a good starting SAM.  He has the speed to cover TEs.  He can blitz.  He can be a stout run defender.  He’s got the complete skill set that you’d want for a SAM.  If he were 6-2, we’d all be in love with him.  Instead, it is more of an awkward lust.

Back to Cobb’s point about Kendricks at WIL.  Should Castillo move him there to take better advantage of his ability?  The problem here is that Cobb is basing his thoughts on the schemes he played in.  Castillo has a different set of ideas.  Usually the WLB is the most important OLB.  He’s expected to be the playmaker.  The SAM does the dirty work.  Castillo has SAM as the most important LB in his system.  He specifically wants the best guy there.

Before you scoff at his stupidity, the Vikings do the same thing.  They have Chad Greenway as the SAM.  Ben Leber was the WIL, despite the fact he is exactly what you’d want in a traditional SAM.  Greenway has been a terrific NFL player and the Vikings front seven is generally very good, sometimes outstanding.  The secondary has been a mess due to injuries and underachievers and that has hurt the overall defense.

Look at the example above in regard to Darrin Smith.  He became a playmaking SAM for Seattle, despite having a WIL build and skill set.

The point here is Cobb’s opinion makes complete sense in the way he’s looking at it, but the problem is that he’s not looking at the situation in the right way.  A coach must find players who can execute his scheme.  Howard Mudd got rid of Castillo’s big boys so that he could add light, athletic blockers.  That’s his scheme.  Castillo puts more value on SAM than he does WIL.  In some ways, I think Jim Johnson was of the same mindset.  We spent FA money on Carlos Emmons and Dhani Jones to play SAM.  We found WILs all over the place, but never spent much on them.  The SAMs that JJ got were bigger guys, but the point is that they seemed more important to his scheme than the WILs.

The other X-factor in all of this is that the NFL is becoming more and more of a TE league.  We may see more teams putting their best LB at SAM in order to have the best chance to cover TEs.  I know Kendricks is short.  We’ll have to see how much that hurts him.  Big thing is that he can actually cover.  He’s athletic and has cover skills.  What’s the point in having a big guy who can’t cover?

* * * * *

I took a look at some roster battles for SB Nation Philly.

* * * * *

Jimmy Bama and I put up another podcast.  This one covered FB, Damaris Johnson getting regular playing time, Phillip Hunt, and the greatness of Marlon Favorite.

* * * * *

Back to the Castillo talk for a minute…one thing some of you didn’t get in my comments yesterday is that all that is in the past.  2012 is put up or shut up time for him.  He has the players.  He has the coaches.  He had the time to teach his scheme and get the players ready.  This year Juan must produce a consistently good defense or he’ll likely be getting a new job.

Last year he was in a tough situation.  This year that doesn’t matter now.  He’ll be judged purely on results.


25 Comments on “Is Kendricks Meant For SAM?”

  1. 1 bridgecoach said at 11:11 AM on August 19th, 2012:

    Tommy – Great topic! The central issue to this teams turnaround will be play of our linebackers and I’d like to see LB discussions and updates every week. Personally, I don’t subscribe to the old paradigms of WILL and SAM. Today, both outside LBs need to have the ability to cover TEs and make plays. Both have to be able to do the dirty work, and blitz and stop the run. Two TE sets are more and more common – as are using RBs and FBs as midfield receivers challenging the coverage skills and tackling ability of LBs. Add the additional burdens placed on the LBs due the the demands of the wide-9 front — specifically being able to quickly diagnose the play while outmaneuvering unblocked linemen.

    Please keep covering Kendricks development. I want to hear more about Ryans leading the wide-9. I’m glad GCobb is talking LBs – even if his analysis is dated and his focus is only on the base LB scheme and ignores how LB personnel shifts in nickel and dime packages. Im eager to hear opinion as to how Kendrick and Ryans factor into each scheme.

  2. 2 TommyLawlor said at 12:57 AM on August 20th, 2012:

    Hopefully Monday’s game will give us lots to examine/discuss.

  3. 3 Mark Sitko said at 11:21 AM on August 19th, 2012:

    The other major thing Cobb does not acknowledge is that the Eagles can only work with what they have. Their LB pool is a limited set of resources, and putting Kendricks at SAM is what they feel is gives them the best situation at LA. I can’t believe Cobb’s only answer is to move Kendricks and get a SAM next year…umm, then what is the lineup he suggests we use this year? I love Kendricks at SAM and I am very confident he will be the best LB we have had since Trot and Emmons. I think he will soon pass Demeco as our best LB…and I love the fact that on any given pass play the QB will not know if he is going to drop with the TE, or come screaming through the line with Babin on one side and Cullen Jenkins on the other. Cobb is way off base here…

    And Tommy – you are totally correct – Jim Johnson also saw the WIL as the least important of the LB spots…he rotated undersized guys that were quick but rarely made plays the entire time he coached here…and he was always correct!!!

  4. 4 Jeppe Elmelund van Ee said at 2:07 PM on August 19th, 2012:

    I know that it is not totally comparable and that I am partly saying this to talk myself into the idea of Kendricks playing SLB, but Darelle Revis is 5-11, and he’d be my number one choice to cover Calvin Johnson who is 6-5…

  5. 5 TommyLawlor said at 12:57 AM on August 20th, 2012:

    Interesting perspective. Hadn’t thought of it quite like that.

  6. 6 Davesbeard said at 4:27 AM on August 20th, 2012:

    I like that, though could you argue Nnamdi in his Oakland days would have been a better matchup?

  7. 7 T_S_O_P said at 2:55 PM on August 19th, 2012:

    Some fans question Riley Cooper and the fourth spot. Don’t.
    Alike Patterson and his skull, I am sure they will assess Cooper’s collarbone to see how it is knitting together, but I cannot see it being healed to the point where it can sustain contact by week 1. That would give us a 52 man roster, with someone else playing his special team role. What was it Runyan said?

  8. 8 ICDogg said at 8:24 PM on August 19th, 2012:

    I do question Riley Cooper holding down the 4th spot, the way Damaris Johnson has been playing, but that wouldn’t likely impact his roster spot.

  9. 9 TommyLawlor said at 12:56 AM on August 20th, 2012:

    Different guys. Cooper is a big WR and cover guy on STs. Damaris is a slot WR and returner on STs.

  10. 10 ICDogg said at 3:07 AM on August 20th, 2012:

    Yeah, they have their different skill sets… but I think it’s possible that Johnson will wind up with more snaps than Cooper.

  11. 11 TommyLawlor said at 10:10 AM on August 20th, 2012:

    That could absolutely be true. My point is that they aren’t necessarily in competition with each other. Damaris is a threat to Avant more than Riley.

  12. 12 E_P said at 3:00 PM on August 19th, 2012:

    Greenway is 6-3 BTW

  13. 13 TommyLawlor said at 12:55 AM on August 20th, 2012:

    Right. He’s a very good athlete, though. In the old NFL, you would want him at WLB to be a playmaker. That’s where I projected him coming out of Iowa.

  14. 14 ICDogg said at 3:54 PM on August 19th, 2012:

    I was just thinking that I don’t remember ever seeing a list of favorite preseason moments, such as the Marlon Favorite flying attempt. Thought it would be a good topic… the one that comes to mind for me was Henry ‘Gizmo’ Williams in 1989 returning a kick and doing a backflip in the end zone.

  15. 15 ICDogg said at 4:04 PM on August 19th, 2012:

    correction, my memory sucks. It was a pass reception from Don McPherson, a fingertip catch, a roll in the end zone, then he got up and did a forward flip in the air, drawing a penalty and a verbal thrashing from Buddy Ryan. The game was played at Wembley…,1481028

  16. 16 T_S_O_P said at 4:39 PM on August 19th, 2012:

    And I was there 🙂 Not that I remember that incident 😮 Too far to see 🙁

  17. 17 T_S_O_P said at 6:55 AM on August 20th, 2012:

    The other thing I mis-remember was Bud Carson being with the Eagles then when of course he was the Browns HC for that game.

  18. 18 eagleizeit said at 2:58 AM on August 20th, 2012:

    I agree with the Kendrick’s height issue. It’s the same as all of our great CB’s that we’ve had in recent history. Our CB’s being 5’10 and easily covering 6’4 WR’s all the time due to their coverage skill’s. But I don’t understand why Juan gets so much heat compared to Rob Ryan & Dallas. Example imagine how much worst they’d look if Rob had all S & LB’s with 1 year or less experience a year ago(that includes haveing one of the best players in the NFL in Demarcus Ware). Juan did a better job with far worse players who haven’t had any time to gel let alone, just got out of college and aren’t in the same class as DeMarcus Ware or Reggie White. To me it looks like Rob’s has just switched from coaching the O to the D.

  19. 19 Tony Wiltshire said at 9:57 AM on August 20th, 2012:

    The Eagles trying to fit a square per in a round hole? Shocking!

  20. 20 austinfan said at 10:38 AM on August 20th, 2012:

    The traditional SLB set the edge against the run and man pressed big slow TEs, so he had to be almost the size of a small DE or a 3-4 OLB, which is why Emmons could make that transition. Gocong was also a traditional SLB at 6’2 253 lbs.

    In the wide 9, the LDE IS the edge, forcing plays back inside, So the SLB doesn’t take on TEs or RTs and attempt to hold his ground on the LOS, he plays in space. We first saw this under JJ, with Dhani Jones playing SLB in space, almost like an ILB – but in a conventional 4-3 this requires a big LDE who can play two gap. In the wide 9 this is automatic given the LDE’s spacing.

    In that case, you want a smaller, faster SLB who’s instinctive and attacks upfield, hitting one of the inside gaps to stop the runner, or at least take on the FB, freeing the MLB to slide over and make the tackle.

    Again in coverage, you need a faster SLB to keep up with the faster TEs you’re not allowed to mug after five yards.

    So let’s see, fast tough instinctive inside LB, not a big relative slow long armed guy on the edge. So which description does Kendricks fill?

  21. 21 Kevin_aka_RC said at 11:07 AM on August 20th, 2012:

    In a wide 9, the LDE is often tangled the TE on run downs. That means the RT is against the SLB. The SLB better be man enough to take him on. Size still matters at SLB.

  22. 22 Waldyr Louis said at 1:35 PM on August 20th, 2012:

    that not all that accurate being that on run the DE jobs is to slam the TE in turn him closing the egde and slam him down the line so when the T or G fires of the line the hole is closing and the back has to cut in to middle linebacker….. last year matthews was always out of position he should have been inside the lane but he was always missing the strong side backer there so that g or t would have to turn out exposing the back ……..if you watch last year there were so many place the DE collasped the lane before the back could escape but that matched the number of time the A gap the middle line backer lane was exposed outside runs were rare the inside gashes were common as for coverage please god no more zone. press and fire blitz the lane that open from the rush

  23. 23 austinfan said at 1:37 PM on August 20th, 2012:

    There’s a name for LBs who try to tangle with RTs, “roadkill.”
    Even Trotter, who was as physical a LB as we’ve seen the last few decades picked on centers, not RTs.

    Reason is simple, RTs weigh about 320 lbs on average, and are 6’5 6’6 with long arms, a LB who tries to take on a RT is in for a long day.
    The key is quickness and recognition, RTs also tend to be relatively slow on their feet and you can beat them to the spot and make them reach and move their feet, then the LB has a leverage advantage.

    What made guys like Shaun and Peters and Snee special is they have such good feet combined with power that it’s simply not fair for LBs, guys like Mathis and Kelce don’t have that kind of power but athletically test out like LBs except for long speed, and they’re still much bigger than any LB they block. And second level blocks are about running 5 yards and hitting someone (except for screens, where their job is to run downfield and just “be there.”).

    LBs get off blocks through recognition and hand use, the lineman has his back to the play, so if the LB senses where the play is going he can slide off the block using his hands – but if he’s stationary he loses.

  24. 24 Thomas said at 11:10 AM on August 20th, 2012:

    Just for comparison’s sake, how does Kendricks look in regards to Bobby Wagner and Lavonte David, both of whom were drafted after he was? And who seems to be the best fit for what the Eagles are trying to do, in your opinion?

  25. 25 GermanEagle said at 12:51 PM on August 20th, 2012:

    Where is Willy T when u need him?!