Panthers enforcer Luke Keuchly shared his pregame playlist on Spotify, and it’s about what you’d expect from an NFL linebacker: Metallica announces the sandman’s entrance, Guns N’ Roses welcomes you to the jungle, and Iron Maiden screams “The Number of the Beast.”
Mychal Kendricks draws pregame inspiration from a number, too, but it isn’t 666.
“I listen to Bob Marley, ‘Three Little Birds,’ before I go out to any game,” Kendricks said. “You know:
Every little thing
Is gonna be all right
He smiled. “That’s how you got to play it.”
That’s not how Kendricks played it in his first five fretful NFL seasons. He has excellent size for a linebacker, at 6 feet and 240 pounds, and he is blessed with the speed of a safety. But controlling that speed and controlling his emotions have been his greatest struggles. He played virtually every down his first three seasons but saw his playing time diminish in 2015, to about 50 percent, then further in 2016, to about 25 percent.
Before Sunday, mellowed by Marley, his playing time was back up to 37 percent. It now stands at 52 percent. That is skewed because middle linebacker Jordan Hicks got hurt Sunday and Kendricks was forced to play more, but he played well again, nonetheless. He helped stifle Washington in Week 1, had a sack at Kansas City in Week 2, and deflected a pass that turned into an interception in the home opener Sunday. He finished with seven tackles, the most he has had since 2015.
Kendricks cleared his mind, engaged his diaphragm, and got lost in the sounds of the Wailers.
“I’ve just been taking time for myself. Just reflecting on, you know, just smelling the roses,” he said. “I’m not as, like, you know — I’m not going to be super hyped, or overexerting my energy. I’m conserving my energy. I’m 27 [on Thursday]. I’m getting older. I’m chillin’. I’m more conservative. I’m just really taking time for myself.”
If “chillin’ ” before an NFL game seems counterintuitive, especially for a linebacker, understand that Kendricks’ main problems on the field have been overpursuit and lack of assignment discipline. He has improved this season because he’s going with the flow.
“I really want to be in flow every time I step on the field,” he said. “I’m working on my breathing techniques. Working on my meditation. I want to be the last one out of the locker room. I just take time for myself. At this point I’m playing this game for the guys in this locker room, my family, and myself.”
Indeed, Kendricks seemed transcendent when he got back in the locker room after the Eagles beat the Giants on Sunday, swaying back and forth, his headphones hanging from a V-neck T-shirt as he relived his finest moment.
It came near midfield, midway through the third quarter. He ignored Sterling Shepard in the flat, anticipated a slant route by Odell Beckham Jr., and nearly intercepted a pass from Eli Manning. The deflection landed in the hands of cornerback Patrick Robinson.
“It’s a read. I knew it was coming. I don’t want to talk about that,” Kendricks said. “It might happen again.”
Given a short field, the Eagles scored a touchdown and went ahead, 14-0, with a little more than 5 minutes to play in the third quarter. They held on to win with a last-minute, 61-yard field goal, an exultant ending to an exhausting day; a day made more taxing because it began with an anthem demonstration in which the players, brass, and ancillary staff locked arms in unified rejection of President Trump’s declaration that anthem protesters should be fired.
Well, it was nearly a unified rejection. Kendricks stood apart, alone. This was all the more striking because Kendricks is part black.
Don’t worry, he said.
“I didn’t even know we were linking arms. I was the last one out of the end zone. I was walking. The anthem started,” Kendricks said. “It was just what I felt. Don’t look too deeply into it.”
That’s a little easier to do, considering Kendricks’ unusual background. He attended a fine-arts school through eighth grade back home in Fresno, Calif., then played at the University of California at Berkeley. From the day the Eagles drafted him in the second round in 2012, Kendricks has marched to the beat of a different drummer.
Now, it’s a steel drummer, and the march centers on self-examination; which, apparently, interferes with promptness. Not only did Kendricks stand apart from the anthem line, he also was late to exit the locker room. He sprinted out of the tunnel and ran outside of the reception line as the last offensive players were announced during pregame introductions.
“I was just taking time for myself, man. Taking time for myself. I was the last one out of the locker room today,” said Kendricks, who also noted that all of the other players who pray in the end zone before the game left before he did, too. “I was the last one out of the end zone.”
So, why the sudden devotion to mindfulness?
“I don’t know where it came from. Maybe it comes with age. I don’t know. I listen to a lot of Jamaican music right now. Jamaicans — they have that carefree spirit,” said Kendricks, who also likes reggae music’s racy little sister, called dancehall. “I swear, like, it’s just like — it’s weird. We all change. We all evolve.”
The Eagles’ evolution has produced a 2-1 record, 2-0 in the division, mostly riding their defense — incredible, really, since by the end of the Giants game the defense was missing six of its top 16 players. In fact, the defense briefly was missing seven of its top players. Kendricks appeared to knock heads with Calvin Munson on the ensuing kickoff.
For the next few minutes Kendricks was seeing three little birds, and they were circling his head.
He missed the next Giants series going through the concussion protocol, but he played the rest of the game and dismissed the incident afterward.
“I got my bell rung,” he said, flexing his neck, channeling Marley: “I should be all right.”
Every little thing …
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