Kendricks Hopes to Wrap Up Starting Linebacker Spot

Photo: <b>Mychal Kendricks</b> has been practicing with the first- and third-team defenses as the Cal football team prepares for the 2009 season.
Anna Hiatt/File
Mychal Kendricks has been practicing with the first- and third-team defenses as the Cal football team prepares for the 2009 season.

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On an emotion-filled evening at the 2008 Emerald Bowl, then-Cal linebacker Worrell Williams offered his individual goodbyes, imputing players with his departing words.

And for his final personal blessing, Williams grabbed freshman linebacker Mychal Kendricks, looked him straight in the eye and told him this: You have the potential to be the best linebacker ever to come out of Berkeley.

It's a scene that Kendricks remembers quite clearly.

"It was kind of emotional," Kendricks recalled. "Just to think that other people think that about myself, it lets me know what I have to do and what expectations are. If other people believe in myself, I've got to, too."

At this point in time, Kendricks remains raw and unproven, but the departure of Williams, Anthony Felder and Zack Follett to the NFL Draft have produced openings that weren't there in 2008.

The freshman played sparingly on special teams last season, while today the coaching staff is trying to figure out whether the 6-foot raw talent fares better outside or inside. Under the leisurely springtime sun, Kendricks has been rather busy-in order to maximize his number of snaps, the Bears staff has the freshman playing with both the first- and third-team defenses.

So excuse Kendricks if he shows a little fatigue; running east and west, the linebacker picked off quarterback Ryan Wertenberger during Saturday's scrimmage but was dragged down before running it back for six.

"I wanted to take it to the house," he said. "I should have. But I was going ones and threes. I was dead tired. It seemed like right when my hands got on the rock, my legs got so heavy. It's different running vertically than horizontally. I was happy with it, but hopefully I'll get better, and the next time, I'll take it to the house."

Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory added later, dryly: "He actually should have scored there."

According to Kendricks, Oregon once recruited him as a running back. And considering the type of tailbacks the Ducks go after, perhaps the linebacker should have scored.

Now a year wiser, Kendricks doesn't dwell on it. He seems to understand that returning picks is the least of his concerns as he's faced with his first legitimate shot at starting on defense.

"I'm working on the little things," Kendricks said. "Things that we as individuals have to work on. Everyone has their little things. Mine is attacking downhill."

Learning to play both inside and outside linebacker is another, though the freshman said he doesn't mind where he ends up as long as he sees the field. It hasn't been a year, he points out, since his goal for every Saturday was to make just one tackle.

Gregory said that the month will strictly serve as a springboard to improvement, and that no roster decisions will be made. It looks like Kendricks will have to improve his stock before the junior transfers-names like Ryan Davis and Jarred Price-arrive for fall camp.

He's certainly trying.

"I'm trying to keep my technique when I'm tired," Kendricks said. "They have me going in the ones and threes, and by the time I get to threes I'm dead tired. What I try to do is focus particularly on my technique and what I have to do because under pressure and when you're tired, you start losing that."

While concentration may be an area for potential growth, Kendricks brings a lot of athleticism to a position where the Bears need reloading. Cal returns just two part-time starters at linebacker in Mike Mohamed and Eddie Young.

Gregory described Kendricks as "talented" and "explosive."

Kendricks said more or less the same things about himself, albeit a bit more colorfully.

"Speed and intensity, all day," he said, describing his approach. "One hundred miles per hour at all times. I don't have all the size and everything, but I've got strength and speed. I think people underestimate me."

The freshman's job, to put it bluntly, is to prevent fans from missing last year's trio. The underestimating should end as soon as he and the other linebackers replace the 244 tackles that left with the graduating seniors.

Still, does he miss Williams and Co. himself?

"Hell yeah," Kendricks said. "I miss them a lot. I miss them 'cause they're my first senior class to leave. Even though they might not miss me as much as I miss them-because I know when you're a senior, you leave and you move on-those guys had a big impact on me."


Contact Andrew Kim at

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