December 30, 2008

Exclusive: Kindle and his father meet with Muschamp

The much-anticipated meeting with defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, Sergio Kindle and Kindle's father , Johnny, did indeed take place in Dallas after Christmas, and all parties left completely satisfied with the game plan.

Muschamp basically told Kindle if he gets a first-round grade from the NFL evaluation committee that he needs to jump to the NFL. But Kindle indicated to Muschamp that if it's anything less than a first-round grade, he's inclined to come back to Texas to improve his stock, compete for a championship and try to be recognized as the best defensive player in college football in 2009.

"I'd put the odds at 60-40 that he's coming back," said a source close to the situation. "I think in his heart he'd like to come back. But even Muschamp said if he gets a first-round grade that he needs to go."

Here's the genius of Muschamp: He told Kindle, "Right now, you're a 3-4, outside linebacker with some pass-rush ability. That might limit you to teams right now that play a 3-4. My goal is for all 32 teams at this time next year to see you as an elite pass rusher from the defensive end spot as well as at outside linebacker."

That struck a chord with Kindle's father, who had already calculated that there are only seven teams with a first-round pick in April who play a 3-4 defense.

Kindle and his father's concern - and a big reason they asked to meet with Muschamp in Dallas - was to get assurances Sergio would be an every-down player next season and not a situational guy.

"Early in the season when Sergio was coming off in a couple packages, there was some frustration there," the source said. "You can't win the Lombardi and stuff when you're off the field. When Brian Orakpo got hurt, you saw the turn after the Oklahoma game. Sergio hardly came off the field. When all the second-team guys came on the field, that's the only time Sergio got a rest. That's what he wants."

Kindle's father has been getting pelted by agents, all telling him how they could make Sergio a millionaire.

"Johnny has been doing a good job of handling it all and thinking about the long-term development of Sergio," the source said. "But Muschamp was the first to say if Sergio is projected as a first-round pick, he's got to go."

Even if he gets a second-round grade, the decision will be a difficult one for Kindle, who is best friends with a bunch of the seniors on this year's Texas team. That list includes Orakpo, Roy Miller and Ryan Palmer. Palmer was Kindle's roommate.

"Those guys are all going to be heading off to the NFL after the Fiesta Bowl, getting agents and buying nice cars," the source said. "Sergio drives a crappy car. So it will be hard for him. He's going to have to stay focused on the goal."

The bond between Muschamp and Kindle has been crucial. Kindle trusts Muschamp to develop him into a big-time pass rusher. If Muschamp hadn't been retained as defensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting at Texas, it's almost a certainty Kindle would be gone to the NFL, the source said.

"Every kid has to have a bond with someone, whether it's a teammate or a coach," the source said. "With all of his best friends moving on, Sergio's got to have that person. When everything hurts, you've got to have someone who motivates you. I know Sergio really enjoys playing for Coach Muschamp."

My NFL sources say Kindle's grade is likely to come back as a second-round or third-round pick because he only has one season of film as a situational pass rusher. NFL scouts noted Kindle struggled against Baylor's senior left tackle Jason Smith, who is projected as a possible top 10 pick in the 2009 draft.

Kindle would also be in a crowded field of linebackers who have more film than Kindle (Aaron Curry of Wake Forest, Brandon Spikes of Florida, James Laurinaitis of Ohio State, Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing of USC). As outside linebackers or defensive ends, Kindle would be competing with the likes of Orakpo and Florida State junior Everette Brown to get into the first round. (Brown had 12.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss this season for the Seminoles.)

But those same NFL sources said if Kindle went to the NFL combine, he'd likely test off the charts because he has grown an inch this season to 6-5 and 240 and runs a 4.55 in the 40.

"If he goes to the combine, he could test his way into the first round," one NFL source said. "It's a big if. It's no sure thing. But he looks like a kid who would wow teams physically."

We could know Kindle's decision by this time next week. He has until mid-January to notify the NFL if he plans to enter the draft as an underclassman.

"Everybody was happy after the meeting," the source said. "They are in a good place together. The coaching staff feels good about Sergio Kindle, and Sergio Kindle feels good about the coaching staff. His future is still up in the air. It's a not a certain thing like Colt McCoy saying he's going to come back. But I think Sergio wants it to be a slam-dunk that he's a first-round pick. He doesn't want it to be a chancy thing and slide like Jermichael Finley and Jamaal Charles. I think in his heart he wants to come back to Texas."


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