By Ken Murray, The Baltimore Sun
9:42 PM EDT, August 14, 2011
If he is not quite the man the Ravens drafted a year ago, Sergio Kindle at least gave a pretty good imitation at his formal unveiling last week in Philadelphia.
The hearing in his left ear is poor and he had to rely on hand signals to get the defensive call at times, but the Ravens' pass-rushing linebacker was always around the ball in his NFL debut. The best news for the Ravens was no news -- no violent hits that left Kindle groggy.
A year after he suffered a hairline skull fracture that forced him to sit out the 2010 season, Kindle, 23, passed a huge test in the Ravens' preseason opener. He was aggressive and relentless trying to make up for lost time. He definitely was not tentative.
"Anxiety and all that stuff wasn't there. Being nervous wasn't there," he said later. "Because the hits that my own teammates give me blocking-wise [in practice] if I can take that, I can take anything."
Even if Kindle did not get a sack, the Ravens might have entered a new era with their pass rush. They got a strong game -- including one sack -- from outside linebacker Paul Kruger, and they got a glimpse of what might be with Kindle.
Kindle barely missed sacking Eagles backup Vince Young in the first quarter and almost ran him down on a scramble play that ended with a 32-yard pass completion.
Former Texas Longhorns separated by one season, Kindle exchanged pleasantries with Young after the game.
"Dude just asked was I good and how I felt," Kindle said. "I told him I felt great and I told him I would've been better if I got that sack. I forgot how fast he was. He was like, 'Yeah, man, you got to get out of there.'"
Kindle finished with two tackles, both on run plays, one inside the Ravens' 10. He lined up on both sides of the defense, played hard and pursued vigorously. He missed his chances at big plays, though, either because of rust or mistakes.
"Missed alignments or missed assignments, maybe," he said. "On the quarterback scramble play, I might have overpursued that, especially with him being elusive as he is. There are ways I could have actually made that play."
Coach John Harbaugh expressed satisfaction with the opening performance.
"Yeah, I noticed him," Harbaugh said. "He was out there. He looked fine. If you're looking for spectacular, I don't think it was spectacular. But he did a good job. He played hard. We'll look at the tape and see what the details are."
Linebackers coach Dean Pees reserved judgment until after he had reviewed the tape.
"He has a high motor, but they all do," Pees said. "That's one of those things that's a Raven trait, because everybody plays hard and everybody runs to the ball.
"We wanted to see him play. The guy hasn't played. So I don't think there were any over-expectations, one way or another. There wasn't anything like, 'Oh, we've got to see this' or 'We've got to see that.' He just hasn't played, so the biggest thing was [to] get him on the field and let him play and let's kind of take it from there."
Kindle was considered one of the best pass rushers coming out in the 2010 draft, until he fell down some stairs in the dark at a friend's house looking for a bathroom in late July. The skull fracture left him with short-term amnesia and long-term hearing loss.
When he conducts interviews, Kindle cocks his head so he can better hear with his right ear. On opening night, he didn't have trouble getting the signals, though.
"Learning the hand signals was major," he said. "The hearing wasn't bad because the guys who get the play call and deliver it to the rest, he's right beside me. I make sure I stay close to him to be sure I get the correct call."
Kindle also gleaned his obvious advantage in Philadelphia: Eagles fans were quiet when their team had the ball. When the Ravens play the Kansas City Chiefs on Friday at M&T Bank Stadium, he won't have a quiet crowd on defense.
Kindle said he had contact to his helmet during the game, "but nothing that made me think twice."
After a few series, Kindle got into a rhythm and started to play naturally.
"I was concentrating on getting my assignments right, and when you think too much on the field, it slows you down," he said. "So, after a while, I just had to let it go. But letting it go sometimes [doesn't] work in your favor, especially with a quarterback that can run as you saw. Overall, I thought I did good."
He can do better, he said, when he learns more of the playbook.
"Once I get all that down, I think everything else will fall into place," Kindle said.
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