Kendricks quietly shines

LOS ANGELES -- Eric Kendricks is kind of a quiet guy by nature, so it's no surprise that he's quietly having quite a season as one of UCLA's middle linebackers.

Kendricks, a 6-foot, 230-pound sophomore, is leading the Pac-12 with 74 tackles and is slowly growing into his role as defensive leader, a role he reluctantly inherited when Patrick Larimore retired because of concussions during training camp.

"I came out here kind of going through the motions and knowing my position and knowing it well," Kendircks said. "I went from having to do that to having to learn everyone’s position. It was huge burden, but I’m starting to get used to it."

It's showing on the field. Kendricks has 38 tackles over the last three games, including a whopping 17 Saturday against Arizona State. It was the most tackles by a UCLA player since Reggie Carter had 20 against BYU in 2008. In the first five games, Kendricks averaged 7.2 tackles--more than five fewer than he is averaging over the last three games.

"At the beginning of the season, I was new to the position and making all the calls and stuff like that," Kendricks said. "I was thinking a little too much and now I’m starting to get used to it and I’m starting to make more plays. Hopefully I can keep this thing going"

Kendricks was second on the team with 76 tackles last season, but he played outside linebacker in UCLA's 4-3 scheme. This year, a new coaching staff meant not only a new scheme, but a new position at inside linebacker. Then, when Larimore could no longer play, Kendricks was thrust into the role of main man in the middle. Now that all the newness has settled, Kendricks can get back to just playing football.

"He has a much better feel for what we’re asking him to do schematically," coach Jim Mora said. "He understands his position better because he’s gotten more repetition in it. When you are a good athlete and smart guy and you get repetition over and over again doing the same thing, you get better at it. I think he’s reaching that point where he really starting to understand the position and all the little idiosyncrasies of it that can help you make a play."