Since the end of the 2010 season, Mychal Kendricks has been racking up recognition much like he racks up ball carriers. After recording 66 tackles and 8.5 sacks last year, it seems there isn't a preseason All-American or watch list that the senior linebacker hasn't tackled thus far.
BearTerritory caught up with Kendricks midway through spring practice to find out how his move into the middle is going. In this first segment we find that out, along with what he's been doing to get better, and even found out that playing linebacker wasn't his first love. This is the first in a series of in-depth Q&As with some of the Bears luminaries heading into fall practice for the 2011 season.
Q: How is spring practice going?
A: Spring practice is going good. They got me -- spring practice is going well. It's going fine. This is our second year into Coach [Clancy] Pendergast's program so we're installing a lot more, and we're moving a lot faster than we have the previous year.
Q: During 11-on-11 drills, it appears the defense continually subs each and every play.
A: Oh yeah, we got a lot of rotations, trying to get everyone reps. During spring, spring is a time for everyone to get better so that's one thing that our coaches are focusing on right now.
Q: Do they still have you playing in the middle?
A: Umm, yes sir.
Q: Are you playing the MIKE or...
A: I'm playing the WILL.
Q: I forgot that you were on the outside last season. I know it's only been a couple of months since the end of last season, but I've already forgotten about it. How about you?
A: Last season? I'm just looking forward to this season. I'm not too worried about the past, I'm just focused on the future ... and the present.
Q: What was it like for you having a breakout season while the team suffered through their worst season of the Jeff Tedford era?
A: It's bittersweet. It's bittersweet. I would rather have my team -- I mean, I wish [we were] more successful as a team, but you can't change what's been done and what's happened, and I think all you can do from here is just get better from that. Hopefully, we've learned our lesson and everyone should want to improve this year. And I hope that, you know, through my actions on and off the field, hopefully my teammates can see that I want it, and they'll want it just as bad too.
Q: What have you done to improve since the end of last season and what have you done to reinforce your leadership over the defense?
A: I'm in a new position right now, so ... they moved me back in the middle, so things are going slow right now. But I'm just trying to get the middle backer down and hopefully -- I'll just work hard every day and add to the attitude of everybody else on my team. I'm really in a new position, so I'm just really trying to take care of myself as of right now and everyone knows that, but the leader part, I'm a talkative person, so I like to be rah-rah at times. I'm just trying to lead this team by example, try to ball out on the field and hopefully we'll have some people wanting to make plays in big-time moments that will help us out during the season.
Q: What sort of change is it for you to go from being on the outside to going back in the middle?
A: It's just different responsibility. That's about it. I just have to know what responsibility to handle on certain calls in certain situations.
Q: Does the change indicate that you won't be rushing as much as you did last season?
A: I'm not too sure. I really don't want to answer that. I don't want to put anything out there.
Q: But generally speaking in a 3-4 alignment ...
A: Yeah, I think pretty much I'll be rushing less.
Q: What do you think about getting on all these watch lists going into next season?
A: Honestly, I didn't even know. Someone told me, and it's a -- the thing I'm going to say on that is it's great, it's wonderful and it's a good achievement, but I haven't won anything yet. It's just an honor to be nominated for things like that, but the end goal is to actually win that and I won't be satisfied until I achieve those goals. And if I don't, you best believe that I gave my best at it.
Q: Did you grow up playing linebacker?
A: I just grew up playing football [laughs]. I started in the eighth grade -- I started freshman year in high school actually, and I played safety and a bunch of other positions. Linebacker was probably my least favorite, but I was the best at it, so I just took it and ran with it, and it's served me pretty well.
Q: What was your favorite position?
A: Well everyone likes the ball, you know what I mean? I was a running back, slash quarterback, slash fullback and tight end. So I mean, I played everything.
Q: Kind of hard to give up the ball and move to defense?
A: Yeah, especially when you're making plays on the ball, making touchdowns. I remember my last season, my last game was the last time I thought about running the rock or making a touchdown. It was kind of sad, but I was just happy I got a chance to play football again.
Q: Did you outgrow the safety position?
A: No, I think at the time on our football team we had personnel that could play safety, but we didn't have anybody that could play linebacker as well, so they just threw me in there because they knew I could play both. I mean if you have a bunch of safeties and no linebackers, you're going to take those safeties that can play linebacker, you know? So that's what happened and it ended up working for me. I started getting bigger and stronger.
Q: What do you like about playing linebacker?
A: You're the captain of the defense. Everyone knows what the linebacker brings. It's intimidation, it's non-stop, it's hunger, it's drive, I just love it. The defense kind of looks at the linebackers to keep 'em going. At least that's how I feel. That's how I feel, and that's how I'm gonna' play.
Q: It's funny you say that, because the way you played last season, I would have thought your answer would have been hitting people.
A: Yeah, well that goes without saying. I think a defensive players' thing is to hit. Maybe not a corner, but I know safeties love to hit. I know linemen love to hit. I know linebackers love to hit, so I didn't want to be too broad, you know.
Q: Obviously, changing positions adds some frustration to the game for you because instead of just playing, you're forced to think about your new responsibilities. Could you talk about that and what it is about your game that you'll need to change or improve to be successful in the middle?
A: The biggest thing about the change, moving from outside to inside is basically you've got to know a lot more stuff too, and the reads. Reads are very important. As a outside linebacker, you know a lot of it is just reaction and just reacting to what you see and making a play. But at the middle linebacker you have to slow down a little bit, be a little more patient, make reads, there's just a lot more to it. I think moving into the inside, it might show that I'm versatile and that I can do more than one thing. So I think it's good for me.