'Great Instincts' Make Kendricks a Big Hit

Photo: <b>Linebacker Mychal Kendricks</b> already has 26 tackles through two games, double the total of his nearest teammate. Kendricks returned a fumble for 45 yards last Saturday.
Victoria Chow/File
Linebacker Mychal Kendricks already has 26 tackles through two games, double the total of his nearest teammate. Kendricks returned a fumble for 45 yards last Saturday.

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Following the departure of Anthony Felder and Worrell Williams, sophomore linebacker Mychal Kendricks has found himself a home on the inside.

Kendricks had a team-high 14 tackles in the Cal football team's win over Eastern Washington -- seven of them in the first quarter -- and now leads the Pac-10 with 26 tackles through the first two weeks. The 6-foot, 230-pound linebacker has size, exceptional speed and, according to coach Jeff Tedford, "great instincts to play the game."

"He puts himself in a position to make a lot of plays because he is so athletic," Tedford said. "He's tough inside, plays with good leverage. He can play the power run game and get outside as well."

Kendricks appeared in 12 games last season as a true freshman, but spent most of his time playing on the outside backing up Felder, Williams and Follett. He moved inside over the offseason and stayed there throughout fall camp, giving the Bears a more athletic option up the middle than they had in 2008.

"The guy can run," defensive coordinator Bob Gregory said. "He'll chase plays down from behind. In the middle, he's got the opportunity to make plays on both sides of the ball as opposed to just half the field."

Like the rest of Cal's defense, Kendricks is benefiting from a year of experience in the 3-4 scheme. He was also only 17 years old when he showed up to fall camp last year. Having the opportunity to grow into the system, senior safety Brett Johnson said, has translated into production for Kendricks during this young season.

"It was a maturity thing, I would say," Johnson said. "He's definitely a lot more mature. Less mental mistakes, more plays."

Kendricks is still prone to a bad step or a misread here and there, but Gregory said that his athleticism sometimes allows him to make up for them.

It did not, however, on his fumble recovery against the Eagles. Kendricks scooped up the loose ball at midfield with nobody between him and the end zone but was tackled from behind at the five-yard line. He said after the game that he got too excited about the potential touchdown-he was watching himself on the big screen.

In the grand scheme of the Bears' blowout, that missed opportunity didn't mean much. Still, it sounded like Kendricks had learned his lesson.

"It's going to be haunting me," Kendricks said. "But it's not going to happen again."

Isi in the Backfield

True freshman Isi Sofele scored the first touchdown of his college career against Eastern Washington on a carry up the middle from the backfield.

That's where he'll be for the rest of the season.

Tedford said that he made the decision to move Sofele from receiver (where he played throughout camp) to tailback (his natural position) because of Cal's dwindling depth in the backfield. Tailback Dasarte Yarnway is out for the year after undergoing foot surgery and Kevin Lewis was recently declared academically ineligible.

Peter Geurts, a backup running back for the Bears last year, returned to the team for the season opener against Maryland and carried the ball once. He was not with the team on Saturday.

Sofele scored from 22 yards out against the Eagles and carried one other time for 14 yards. He ran for almost 2,000 yards as a senior at Cottonwood High in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Holley a Passing Target

Fullback Brian Holley caught two passes out of the backfield for 32 yards, including a 21-yard reception on which he broke one tackle in the open field, keeping his balance on one hand as he was going down.

Holley did the same type of thing on a carry against Maryland, fighting through initial contact for a positive gain. Although he's been used sparingly as a ball carrier -- duty No. 1 is, of course, blocking -- Holley has produced when called on. He's averaging 12 yards on his four touches in 2009.

Moving on Up

Cal is ranked No. 8 in the new AP poll and tied with LSU for No. 7 in USA Today.

The Bears moved up thanks in large part to losses by No. 5 Oklahoma State and No. 8 Ohio State. The Buckeyes were edged out by No. 3 USC and slipped to 11th in both polls.


Contact Matt Kawahara at [email protected]

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