Sergio Kindle's course correction makes a big impact

August 04, 2012|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

The silence was probably what concerned Calvin Walker most.

It made the 5-minute car ride from the Ravens' complex to their Owings Mills apartment feel like a cross-country trip. It marred meals and lingered over nights at home.

Walker moved from Texas to Baltimore last July to help out his older brother, Ravens outside linebacker Sergio Kindle. But on plenty of days last fall with Kindle's frustration growing, it was Walker who felt helpless.

"I was kind of frustrated, too," said Walker, 23, one year younger than Kindle. "I didn't know what was going on at the training facility, why he wasn't playing, why he wasn't even suiting up. He was angry about it. That's kind of how he is. He lets things build up inside him without sitting down, relaxing, thinking and talking about it."

Fading dreams, poor choices, missed opportunities. There was so much for the brothers to talk about, so many emotions for Kindle to confront.

About three months after the Ravens took him in the second round of the 2010 draft, Kindle fell down the stairs at his friend's home in Austin, Texas, resulting in a fractured skull and permanent hearing loss in his left ear. He was arrested for driving under the influence five months later, his third brush with the law in a four-year span. And last year, when Kindle finally appeared to have things in order following a rookie season spent on injured reserve, he couldn't grasp the playbook and was active for just two of the Ravens' 18 games.

"I'm just a smarter guy now. I'm more of a humble guy. I'm a better decision maker," Kindle said last week as he stood outside the Ravens' locker room, pondering all that has happened in the past two years. "It was gradual, but now I think I've arrived at steady, level ground."

In just his second full training camp, Kindle has plenty of ground to make up. But with each bull rush of an offensive lineman, each burst off the edge toward the quarterback, the outside linebacker gains some traction in his long road back.

Kindle has been one of the Ravens' biggest surprises in the early going of training camp and last Friday — in what he called his best practice ever — he had four sacks and an interception.

"Everybody was like, 'Man, Serge looks good,'" said Ravens cornerback Chykie Brown, also a teammate of Kindle at the University of Texas. "I said, 'I've been telling all you guys that he's getting back to his old self.' That's the Serge I used to see at UT. Last year, he looked kind of lost. This year, he looks like the Serge I used to know."

First glory, then trouble

The head football coach at Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas, Bobby Estes still hears from people who watched Kindle play in high school and believe he could have been the next Earl Campbell, the punishing running back who won a Heisman Trophy at Texas and then gained more than 9,000 yards in a Hall of Fame NFL career.

"A beast," said Estes, who watched Kindle rush for more than 7,000 yards in high school. "Always the biggest, fastest and strongest guy in the room."

Longhorns coach Mack Brown toyed with using Kindle at running back, but thought he projected more as an NFL linebacker or defensive end. By the time Kindle was done in Austin, he had developed into one of nation's finest pass rushers and a team leader.

"One year before the Oklahoma game, he started saying, 'We have to get our swagger back. We have to walk in that stadium confident.' He said, 'I grew up outside that stadium and I could hear the games but I couldn't see them and I'm going out a winner in the Cotton Bowl,'" Brown recalled last week. "We put little dog tags on the kids the rest of the year that said 'swagger.' He was so proud because it was something he stood in front of the team and came up with."

Estes and Brown overflow with stories about Kindle's selflessness, like the time he presented a handicapped child a game ball or how he never turned down an autograph and treated the children of his coaches as if they were his own. But for all those things and for Kindle having what both coaches described as a "heart of gold," he couldn't stay out of trouble.

He was arrested in 2007 for drunk driving. He was involved in a series of bar fights. In 2009, he crashed his car into an apartment building while text messaging one of his coaches.

"He does understand that he's made some poor decisions in his past and he's doing everything in his power to fix them," Brown said. "He wants to do things right. He's really a great person."

There have been accusations that Kindle was drunk when he fell down the stairs on that July 2010 night, but both he and Walker deny the rumors . Kindle, who was at a charity event earlier that evening, doesn't remember much about the incident . And frankly, all that mattered at the time was his NFL career, which was in serious jeopardy just days before it was supposed to start.

"I knew I'd have to start over and build things back up, both mentally and physically," Kindle said.

A long road

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