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Gaels' Matt Kendrick getting comfortable with new position
Posted: August 20th, 2013 @ 8:38pm
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
As things go, the transformation of Matt Kendrick, veteran tackle, to Matt Kendrick, novice centre, is progressing probably as well as one could hope.
"It started out rough," said Kendrick, on arriving at the Queen's Golden Gaels' training camp to find a new position waiting for him. "I've never snapped in my life but it's getting there.
"I'll muff one or two or three a day but the rate of screwing up has gone down day by day, so we're going in the right direction."
Gaels coach Pat Sheahan added a cautionary note.
"He's learning it," Sheahan said. "His progress has been amazing - recognition, footwork, his pass (protection) has been excellent.
"The problem at centre is one bad one is one too many."
Not only did the Gaels have to replace starter Mike Sullivan this year, Matt Lapointe, the man who subbed for Sullivan when he went out of the lineup with injury last season, got into grad school at Carleton.
That left the Gaels scrambling to find a centre. With fifth-year man Josh Prinsen coming back at one tackle spot and third-year Gael Nick Romanchuk, all 6-foot-11, 322 pounds of him, ready for a bigger workload at the other, Sheahan saw in Kendrick the potential to be a good centre.
"He's an outstanding athlete," said Sheahan, who is also auditioning rookie John Meenagh for the job.
The Gaels have been blessed, Sheahan said, with some fine centres the past several seasons in Sean O'Donnell, Dan Bederman and Sullivan. As a result, he said, "there are things about the centre position that we've come to take for granted."
One of them is mobility, which is one reason why Kendrick became the top candidate among the veteran offensive linemen to move.
"Mike Sullivan was a very mobile kid so you could do some things with the centre here that larger, wider bodies aren't capable of doing," Sheahan explained. "(Kendrick and Meenagh) do a tremendous job on the wide zone, they get off the ball, they cover ground. They're both really tough, very athletic.
"They have a bit of a nasty streak to them, too, just like Mike Sullivan did, that makes them effective players. Both guys have background on defensive line and they've brought that attitude, which is pretty good."
Kendrick remembered the day the idea of changing positions was broached to him.
"Slight hesitation," he said of his initial reaction, "but if the coach says it's best for the team if I play centre, then I'll play centre. It's a bit of a pain having to learn something completely new in your fifth year but I'm ready to do it and I'm learning it fairly well. I'm growing in confidence day after day.
"Naturally, I prefer playing tackle. I feel like I could use my speed a little bit better when I'm out on the edge. I just take on double teams, mostly, at centre but the pass blocking's a bit easier."
As he comes to understand the nuances of the position, Kendrick said he will not only play better there, but also if it comes to pass that he returns to playing tackle.
"It certainly will help me understand the overall blocking scheme more," he said. "You're a lot more mentally engaged playing centre, making all the calls, seeing where people are, calling out the guys so the rest of the O line knows where they're going to block."
Sheahan said he's confident that however it works out, centre will not be a problem spot for the Gaels this year.
"These guys will be very good," he said. "There are some trials and tribulations but both guys are getting it."
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