Andy Reid did not mince words on Sunday when he was asked if Mychal Kendricks, a rookie linebacker from the University of California, would be his starting strong side linebacker.
"Yes," Reid replied simply and definitively.
Reid handing over the starting position over to a rookie before the hitting even begins at Lehigh is surprising, especially considering how that went last year.
Yes, the circumstances between Casey Matthews and Kendricks are different. Matthews was not drafted as high as Kendricks was nor was he considered to be anywhere close to the type of player Kendricks is. The fact that Matthews did not have OTAs also makes his situation different from Kendricks.
But at the end of the day Kendricks finds himself in the same situation Matthews failed in, a starting linebacker on a team with Super Bowl aspirations playing behind a defensive line system that can expose linebackers like none other.
Which means it is far to ask, is Reid forcing Kendricks into the starting unit too soon?
The move to make Kendricks is a starter now is less of a question of why, but more a question of why now?
If the Eagles were desperate for a starter at the strong side, the move would make more sense. Last year the Eagles had no clear middle linebacker, thus the move to make Matthews a starter was needed. But this year, the Eagles can play Jamar Chaney at strong side, which makes the Kendrick move a curious one.
Going into Lehigh last season, there was little question that the teams best linebacker was Chaney. Chaney played great late in his rookie season, and despite having some bad games, was still arguably the teams best linebacker last year as well. Chaney finished the season with 92 tackles, but more importantly 3 interceptions. Some of the picks were easy ones, but given how hard it has been for Eagle linebackers to create turnovers over the past few years, the fact is he made the plays.
Expectations should be even higher for Chaney this year, as he will have a year under his belt in Juan Castillo's system. Chaney was the teams middle linebacker at the end of 2010, and was moved to the strong side during camp last year. While he was eventually moved back to middle linebacker in Week 4 because of the play of Casey Matthews, he still has more experience at the position than Kendricks does. It makes more sense to slide Chaney back in as the strong side linebacker than it does to appoint Kendricks the starter now.
Chaney is a hard worker, one of the best athletes on the defense and deserves to be on the field. With Brian Rolle the starter on the weak side and DeMeco Ryans the starter in the middle, starting Kendricks would put Chaney on the bench. They could decide to put Chaney at the weak side, but is benching Rolle and making Chaney learn another linebacker position really worth it, just to get a rookie on the field?
If Reid and Castillo believe that Kendricks is going to be a better player than Chaney, that's fine. But make the move after Kendricks plays in at least one NFL preseason game. Make Kendricks take the job from Chaney.
Is he capable of doing it? Absolutely.
But as of right now has he earned the job? Absolutely not.
By making Kendricks the starter now, Reid is putting the same amount of pressure on Kendricks that he put on Matthews last season. Kendricks has a better chance to succeed because of the players around him and his skills, but the pressure is the same. If Kendricks has to be taken out as a starter, it reflects badly on him and the "bust" label starts to get thrown around. Ask Casey Matthews about how it feels to deal with that every week in the media.
No matter the physical skills or how fast he grasps the defense, the fact is he has never done it before. And with the "Wide 9" in front of him, his reaction time has to be fast. That's a lot to take on as a rookie. Especially on a defense that struggled last season, and on a team that has their sights set on a Super Bowl.
Last season, Reid and Castillo bet on Matthews and they paid for it.
Let's hope Kendricks doesn't make them pay again this year.
Follow Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks