Kendricks Faces Tough Test Against Patriots, 5 to Watch
UPDATE: NFL Network reports that the Patriots will sit out Tom Brady, Jerod Mayo, Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski tonight against the Eagles.
When the Eagles drafted Mychal Kendricks in the second round, they did so in part due to the linebackers’ coverage skills. That also played a role in quickly naming Kendricks the starter on the strong side, where he’ll often go up against tight ends in coverage.
Tonight, Kendricks will be tested by the best group of tight ends in the NFL as the Eagles face the Patriots. Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Visanthe Shiancoe are all talented and experienced.
In addition, due to New England’s depth at the position, Kendricks will still be facing impressive talent after the starters nights are over for the Patriots.
“Well, they’re good players,” said Eagles head coach Andy Reid of the Patriots’ tight ends. “So your safeties and your linebackers, that’s a big challenge. That’s the primary part of their offense, pass-game. They use combinations with those guys and you’ve got to be disciplined.
“It will be great for Kendricks. He’s a young guy and it’ll be a great experience for him.”
In addition to the players themselves, the Patriots offer an additional challenge – facing a creative offense.
“Mychal is very athletic so I think he’ll do well,” said defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. “I think more of the challenge will be schematically - knowing where to line up with all the different looks and all the different packages that they do a good job with.”
As excited as the Eagles coaching staff is to see Kendricks line up against some of the best tight ends in the league, the rookie is downplaying it with a veteran-like savvy for avoiding a straight answer.
“Who knows what they’re going to do, you know?” Kendricks said. “We can prepare for what we think they’re going to do but they could come out and run all game, so for me to answer that question… we’re just going to have to see.”
Kendricks admitted he was excited to face the Patriots, but the 21-year-old wasn’t basing that on the fact that he’d be going against one of the most prolific passers in NFL history in Tom Brady.
“This is my second NFL game,” Kendricks said. “I’m excited period, you know what I mean? Just to go out there and play is a blessing and I’m excited for that. I’m just going to do what these coaches ask me to do and go out there and ball my heart out.”
Kendricks did say he could face a variety of challenges, as the Patriots throw to running backs more often than many teams and the strong side linebacker often ends up picking up a tight end or a running back in coverage.
“We could get a whole heap of situations, so we’ll see,” Kendricks said. “You guys tune in, you know what I’m saying?”
Five Players/Positions to Watch Tonight
1. Left Tackle (King Dunlap and Demetress Bell) - The Eagles signed Bell to replace the injured Jason Peters, but the former Bill hasn't played well enough to hold onto the job. That leaves Dunlap as the starter, looking to prove he's improved enough not to be a weak spot on the offense if he's the opening day starter.
2. Nnamdi Asomugha - The Eagles spent $60 million over five years on the star cornerback last offseason, but he still hasn't shown the type of skills that earned him recognition as one of the top shutdown cornerbacks in the NFL. If he doesn't show it soon, there will be growing concern that Asomugha was overhyped in Oakland.
3. Eagles Safeties - Nate Allen makes his preseason debut after an injury kept him out of the opener against the Steelers, giving everyone the first glimpse of 2012 of Allen with Kurt Coleman, the other projected starter at safety. Coming into the season, the two were viewed as potential weak spots on defense. Can they prove otherwise in extended playing time tonight? They're likely to see some tough matchups in coverage against the Patriots aforementioned tight ends.
4. DeMeco Ryans - While the middle linebacker is still learning the Eagles defense, he could put some minds at ease by showing some of the top-flight talent and athleticism that the Birds were hoping they'd acquired in the spring. Ryans should be completely healthy by now, and this is his first chance to show that over extended playing time with Philadelphia.
5. Nick Foles - With Mika Kafka out due to a fractured hand, Nick Foles has an extended opportunity this week to show that he deserves consideration as the Eagles backup. He showed explosiveness with a 70-yard touchdown to Damaris Johnson and a 44-yard strike to Mardy Gilyard in a 24-23 win over the Steelers. Can he show consistency?
For an in depth breakdown of the five positions to watch, click here.
Ryan Messick covers the Eagles for 97.3 ESPN FM. Follow him on Twitter.