Things are taking shape for Kennedy after wasted season
By Bill Coats

Of the Post-Dispatch
08/02/2004





MACOMB, Ill. - To some degree, Rams defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy was a victim of bad advice last year as a rookie.

"When I was in college, a lot of guys came back - LaVar Arrington and some other players that we had there at Penn State - and told me how easy (NFL) practices were, how I'd dominate on the pro level, and different things like that," Kennedy said.

So, he acknowledged, he wasn't even close to being ready for the rigors that lay ahead of him.

"When I came into camp last year, I felt weaker because I'd lost a lot of weight, and I didn't really know what to expect from the coaches," he said. "And I can't say my work ethic was as high as it should be. This year, I'm stronger and I know what to expect."

And, according to coach Mike Martz, significantly closer to living up to the hype that comes with being a first-round draft pick. "He's much-improved, absolutely, from last year; there's no question," Martz said. "You notice him. He's made some plays out here."

As the 12th overall selection in the 2003 draft, the 6-foot-4, 320-pound Kennedy was expected to make a big splash. Instead, he barely created a ripple. Kennedy, 24, played sparingly and in only 12 games, making 10 tackles.

If he had a personal highlight, it was a tipped Jeff Blake pass that linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa intercepted in a 30-24 victory at Arizona.

But the lows far outweighed the highs. "It was definitely frustrating going out there every game and just standing on the sideline," he said. "But it was a learning experience. I looked at it as a redshirt year."

In the offseason, Kennedy devoted himself to the weight room, and the effects are noticeable. "It's paid off," Martz said. "To stand out and move up now, he really needs to kind of pour on the steam. He's moving in the right direction."

When tackle Brian Young signed a free-agent deal with New Orleans, an opening was created on the defensive line. For now, Damione Lewis has moved into the first-team slot, but Kennedy is being counted on to at least provide effective depth.

"Jimmy did not have a good year last year, but he's had a pretty good offseason," defensive line coach Bill Kollar said. "He's gotten his upper body quite a bit stronger, and we're hoping that he can come on and really help us out this year."

Kennedy is getting plenty of reps in camp at Western Illinois University and, Martz noted, has been keeping up with his linemates. "He's up there at the same practice pace and intensity," Martz said.

A bout with back spasms kept Kennedy sidelined for one day, but he was back the next, even though the pain has yet to subside. "It's shooting down my leg, so it must be touching the nerve or something. I'm sleeping terrible," he said. "But I'm trying to work through it."

A year ago, such discomfort might have put Kennedy in sick bay for an extended period. But, he said, he knows now that he has much to prove.

"These guys are trying to accommodate me so I can have success on the field. I'm just trying to stay healthy and live up to the challenge," he said. "The only thing that makes me nervous now is, I have a year in but I'm still like a rookie. And I don't want to go out there and make any rookie mistakes."

Still, he realizes that the process won't be completed in short order. "My biggest thing is trying to be consistent," he said. "I have good practices and I have bad practices. . . . It takes time, especially at defensive line; that's a tough position to learn. You go from dealing with college-age guys to dealing with grown men, guys who've been in the league for eight, nine, 10 years. They've mastered their technique, and I'm just trying to learn my technique."

Despite last year's disappointments, Kennedy said he never gave up. "My confidence is out of the roof," he said. "Not once has it hit me that I can't play this game. I know I can play. That's why I'm here, that's why I was a first-round pick."

One that someday just might live up to that potential. "He's a ways from where we expect him to be," Martz said, "but he's on his way."



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Kennedy's profile

Position: Defensive line
Number: 73
Height: 6-4
Weight: 320
Born: Nov. 15, 1979
Hometown: Yonkers, N.Y.
College: Penn State
NFL experience: Going into his second season with Rams
Miscellaneous: Kenndy was drafted No. 12 overall by the Rams in 2003