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?
* * * * *
* * * * *
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.